New Delhi: The European Union (EU) is looking to push for “resumption of talks” on the free trade agreement (FTA) with India during the virtual summit Saturday, much to the Narendra Modi government’s discontent.
India and the EU have been discussing a Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), popularly known as the FTA, since 2007. Both sides held several formal rounds of talks until 2013 when talks got suspended. At the time, the deal was almost finalised under the former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, but disagreements persisted on some crucial issues.
The talks have been on hold since then due to the Modi government’s insistence on starting the talks from scratch.
Now, the EU is again trying to resume the talks where they were left off.
“We are talking about a resumption of the talks that were suspended in 2013, not a whole new set of talks but a resumption of talks,” a senior EU government official said on condition of anonymity.
This was also discussed at the last India-EU Summit, which was held in July 2020, but it ended in a stalemate. However, both sides launched high-level trade and investment dialogue to iron out some of the sticky issues.
Some of the main issues in the BTIA negotiations pertain to tariff reduction in wines and spirits and on pharmaceuticals. The EU also has issues with Indian tariffs on IT and telecom products. India and the EU have consistently locked horns over having a separate deal on two-way investments.
All these issues will come up at the India-EU Summit on 8 May.
‘Strong strategic partnership’
According to another EU official, however, India and the EU have culled out for themselves a “strong strategic partnership” especially under the Indo-Pacific construct given Brussels’ growing consternation with China.
Earlier this week, the EU suspended a massive investment pact with China, which was approved in December 2020.
Last month, the EU came out with its own Indo-Pacific strategy finally after some of its member countries — France, Germany and the Netherlands — rolled out their plans.
“A strong strategic partnership between India and EU will benefit both. It will also support prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and the wider world… We are ready to reinforce our role in the Indo-Pacific region,” said the second EU official.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised the issue of the ongoing border tensions with China both with Charles Michel, President, European Council (which defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities) and Ursula Von der Leyen, President, European Commission (EU’s executive branch).
The move came as the two launched an ‘India-EU Strategic Partnership: A Roadmap to 2025’.
The roadmap is a guide to joint action and to further strengthen the strategic ties over the next five years, with a priority on foreign policy and security issues.
The EU also highlighted the human rights aspects in India and how there’s a “need for greater engagement” on this issue.
“We respect India as a secular democracy and human rights (are) part of the political dialogue between India and EU,” the second official said, adding that the farmers’ agitation was discussed at the India-EU Human Rights Dialogue last month.