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India-EU FTA talks begin in Brussels next month

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

India and the 27-nation economic bloc of European Union (EU) would resume negotiations next month for having a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA). Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht are also expected to have an informal meeting during the same time. This is part of an effort to boost bilateral trade.

So far, there have been nine rounds of negotiations between India and the EU for a broad-based trade treaty on goods and services. Earlier this year, during EU trade commissioner’s visit, both ministers had vowed to close the deal by October.

“We hope we will keep that date,” said Daniele Smadja, head of the EU delegation to India, while addressing the Indian industry at Ficci. She said a series of meetings between the chief negotiators would take place in the last week of August.

Talks to initiate a broad-based FTA with EU began in June 2007. Since then, several differences have mired the process of negotiations over EU’s insistence on including social issues such as human rights, labour policies and climate change within the purview of FTA.

Besides discussions on trade and investment, the negotiations would also take up issues concerning services, intellectual property rights, competition policy, government procurement and geographical indications, among others. The Indian industry has demanded for non-trade issues to be kept outside the FTA.

A stock-taking meeting on the FTA was held in New Delhi in May between the EU director-general for trade David O’Sullivan and commerce secretary Rahul Khullar.

Stressing on the need for greater investment from India, the EU today said that conclusion of the FTA between the EU and India would ensure more engagement from both sides.

“Concluding the FTA negotiations will send a clear signal of engagement on both sides. It would boost both trade and investment between EU and India. We need to seize the opportunity, a one in a lifetime for both of us,” Smadja said, adding the negotiations for having the trade deal are likely to be wrapped up this year.

She said under the Lisbon Treaty ratified last year, the investment policy in the EU would be developed and managed at the European level, giving greater negotiating power to EU to deliver better investment protection for European businesses.

The EU is India’s largest trading partner with a trade volume of $80.6 billion, accounting for 21 per cent of the country’s exports and 16 per cent of imports.

Last year, during the Tenth India-EU Summit, both sides vowed to take bilateral trade to $200 billion within the next three years. However, the target seem far-fetched as several contentious issues continue to hamper trading relations between the two, particularly seizure of Indian generic drugs transiting through European ports meant for third-world countries.

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First Published: Sat, July 24 2010. 01:31 IST