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India, EU leaders push free trade pact at summit talks

The eighth EU-India Summit would seek to forge closer strategic ties and also deepen cooperation.

business Updated: Nov 30, 2007 11:34 IST

The European Union and India launched summit talks on Friday after setting a 2008 target for a free trade pact between the 27-member bloc and the South Asian giant, officials said.

The eighth EU-India Summit would seek to forge closer strategic ties and also deepen cooperation in "energy, climate change and World Trade Organisation talks," said an EU mission statement in New Delhi said.

The EU is India's largest trading partner, accounting for a fifth of India's total trade, and is also one of its most important sources of foreign investment.

Officials from both sides set the tone for the day with calls for a free trade deal to be wrapped up by next year.

Premier Manmohan Singh, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, trade minister Kamal Nath and national security advisor MK Narayanan were meeting on Friday with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Jose Socrates, Prime Minister of Portugal, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Nath had urged a successful conclusion of a free trade pact by the end of 2008 on Thursday and European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson voiced similar hopes.

On the political front, the sessions were to focus on the situation in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan besides Africa and the Middle East, an EU statement said.

Barroso noted in a statement on the summit eve that India and the EU, "the world's two largest democracies, can have a great impact in addressing global challenges such as peace and security, governance and climate change."

While the EU continues to be India's foremost trading partner and biggest foreign investor," the conclusion of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement will certainly boost bilateral trade," Barroso added.

India's foreign ministry said deals would be signed later Friday on scientific, technological and development cooperation.

The EU had earmarked 470 million euro (690 million dollars) to promote economic development with India over the next five years, Barroso wrote in an article published in the Indian media on Friday.

The EU has agreed to provide seven million euros to set up a European Business and Technology Centre in New Delhi to foster links between the business and scientific communities.