EU-India summit to give ‘political impetus’ to stalled FTA talks

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Mar 27, 2016 20:25 IST
The fact that the 13th EU-India summit is happening itself is news,

After the Italian marines case cast a shadow over EU-India relations and led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi giving Brussels the miss during his visits to Europe, the aim of Wednesday’s summit is to ‘re-launch’ relations and provide ‘political impetus’ to trade talks.

The fact that the 13th EU-India summit is happening itself is news, a senior Brussels-based diplomat told Hindustan Times. Interestingly, EU’s Italian chief of foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, who had criticised India in the European parliament, will also be present.

A key ‘deliverable’ of the summit is the resumption of the stalled talks on Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), which were launched in 2007, but have faced a series of hurdles since. A meeting of commerce ministers on the sidelines is also expected.

Experts, however, say there are ‘slim’ chances of the free trade agreement being reached anytime soon: “There are too many outstanding issues to allow for a full deal to be struck. Whilst the EU is in favour of a comprehensive agreement, New Delhi prefers signing even an imperfect accord and amending it as relations progress”, said Anand Menon, professor of European Politics at King’s College London.

Swati Dhingra of the London School of Economics said: “The key challenge is that the agreement seems very one-sided. The analogy would be that India is picking up the tab for the hotel room and the EU is just paying for the internet charges during the stay”.

Britain introducing increasing restrictions on Indian and other non-EU professionals is likely to figure in the trade talks, while the EU side is known to have asked India to substantially bring down ‘high’ duties on automobiles.

An EU note says: “India has embarked on a process of economic reform and progressive integration with the global economy that aims to put it on a path of rapid and sustained growth. However, India’s trade regime and regulatory environment remains comparatively restrictive”.

“India still maintains substantial tariff and non-tariff barriers that hinder trade with the EU. In addition to tariff barriers to imports, India also imposes a number of non-tariff barriers in the form of quantitative restrictions, import licensing, mandatory testing and certification for a large number of products, as well as complicated and lengthy customs procedures”.

The recent Brussels blasts will figure in the summit to be attended by Modi, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk, the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmstrom, and Mogherini.

The EU is India’s leading trade and investment partner and the biggest export destination. India and the EU are also ‘strategic’ partners since 2004. Modi is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with the Belgian prime minister Charles Michel during the one-day visit.

Official sources said the summit will be an opportunity to ‘re-launch’ relations and address FTA negotiations ‘with an aim to instil some political impetus to the stalled talks’. Discussions will focus on the ‘EU-India agenda for action 2020’, which is expected to set out concrete priority actions for the strategic partnership in the next five years.

Modi is scheduled to address a diaspora event on Wednesday evening before leaving for Washington to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit.

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