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India launches free trade talks with European nations

India is on course to signing its first free trade agreement with the Western world after Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath launched a joint task force to negotiate a deal with four European nations.

business Updated: Jan 26, 2008 17:39 IST

India is on course to signing its first free trade agreement with the Western world after Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath on Saturday launched a joint task force to negotiate a deal with four European nations.

When signed, the agreement between India and member-states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland - will be the first such deal for India outside the Asian region.

It also comes in the middle of negotiations between India and the European Union - whose 27 member-states do not include these four countries - to strike a landmark free trade agreement.

Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, who returned to Davos from India on Saturday to participate in world trade talks with his American and European counterparts, said the Indian government as well as the EFTA states had accepted the report of a joint study group that has concluded that both sides will "significantly benefit" from a free trade agreement.

"It has been agreed to constitute a joint task force comprising officials from India and EFTA states to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the joint study group and negotiate the proposed broad trade and investment agreement between India and EFTA states," his ministry said in a statement

India's Ambassador to Switzerland Amitava Tripathi told IANS that the India-EFTA free trade agreement would be significant because Switzerland is home to some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, including Novartis, the fourth biggest.

"With the growth in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry in India, this is going to be a very important agreement," he said.