India, 4-nation EFTA bloc eye resumption of talks on free trade deal after 5 yrs

Updated on Oct 05, 2022 07:43 PM IST

Negotiations for a trade deal between India and EFTA started in January 2008 and 13 rounds of talks were held until late 2013 before negotiations were paused. Four more rounds were held after talks resumed in October 2016, the last in January 2017

The EFTA states are keen to push forward the negotiations in view of India’s current track record of speedily finalising trade deals with Australia and the UAE. (ANI File Photo)
The EFTA states are keen to push forward the negotiations in view of India’s current track record of speedily finalising trade deals with Australia and the UAE. (ANI File Photo)
ByRajeev Jayaswal and Rezaul H Laskar

NEW DELHI: India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a bloc that comprises Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, are eyeing the resumption of negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) after a gap of several years, people familiar with the matter said.

The two sides held their last round of negotiations in New Delhi in January 2017, and the issue of resuming talks figured in all recent political-level meetings between India and EFTA member states, the people said.

Two officials aware of the development said Switzerland has been in talks with India for the FTA involving the EFTA. Though EFTA is not a large bloc compared to others with which India is currently negotiating trade deals, it has its strategic economic importance, the officials said requesting anonymity.

“In EFTA, India’s trade with only Switzerland is significant, and the trade balance is hugely in favour of them. Hence, its priority is a bit low compared to other ongoing FTAs,” one official said.

According to official data, India’s total trade with EFTA during 2021-22 was $27.23 billion, with a deficit of more than $23.7 billion.

India’s key imports from these countries are gold ($20.7 billion in 2021-22), coal, pharmaceuticals, vegetable oil, silver, dairy machinery, medical, petroleum crude and scientific equipment. It exports chemicals, iron and steel, gold, precious stones, yarns, sports goods, glassware and bulk drugs to these nations.

Negotiations for a trade deal between India and EFTA were launched in January 2008. Thirteen rounds of talks were held until late 2013 before negotiations were put on hold. Four more rounds were held after talks resumed in October 2016.

Heads of delegations from both sides met virtually on September 15 to discuss the state of play and open issues in the negotiations.

Addressing the annual session of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry on September 29, commerce minister Piyush Goyal mentioned Switzerland as one of the prospective FTA partners along with the UK, Canada and the European Union.

“We have FTAs with many countries in the past, but today, we are working with developed countries. Australia, UAE, UK, EU, Canada, GCC group of [countries], Switzerland…All the rich countries of the world, highly developed countries. They all want to work with India,” he said at the function.

The second official said Switzerland is important as India receives significant foreign direct investments (FDI) from the country. Switzerland has been the fifth top FDI sourcing nation after Singapore, the US, Mauritius and the Netherlands, according to the UNCTAD World Investment Report 2022.

There are possibilities for collaboration in healthcare, telemedicine, education and technological advancements, the second official said, citing the meeting between Switzerland member of parliament Niklaus Samuel Gugger and Union minister Jitendra Singh in New Delhi in April.

A high-level delegation from Switzerland will visit India in October and there will be efforts to take forward bilateral ties in areas that are mutually beneficial, he added.

The EFTA states, for their part, are keen to push forward the negotiations in view of India’s current track record of speedily finalising trade deals with Australia and the UAE, the people said.

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