India, EU launch new body to tackle challenges in trade, tech

Published on Apr 25, 2022 12:32 PM IST

This is the first time that India has agreed to set up such a trade and technology council with any of its partners

The agreement on launching the council was reached at a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. (photo tweeted by MEA) (Twitter)
The agreement on launching the council was reached at a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. (photo tweeted by MEA) (Twitter)
By, New Delhi

India and the European Union (EU) on Monday launched the India-EU Trade and Technology Council, a strategic mechanism that will give New Delhi access to advanced technologies and allow the two sides to set standards in crucial areas such as 5G and artificial intelligence.

This is the first time India has agreed to set up such a trade and technology council with any of its partners. For the EU, it is only the second such body, following the first one set up with the US.

The agreement on launching the council was reached at a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

A joint statement that announced the launch of the council described the body as a “strategic coordination mechanism [that] will allow both partners to tackle challenges at the nexus of trade, trusted technology and security, and thus deepen cooperation in these fields between the EU and India”.

People familiar with the matter said the proposal for setting up trade and technology council came from the EU side and India responded with alacrity as it will allow the two sides to work on issues such as 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, climate modelling and health-related technology.

“The EU has such a body with only the US and the decision to create one with India reflects the level of trust,” one of the people cited above said.

From the Indian side, the ministers of external affairs, commerce and electronics and information technology will oversee the work of the council, and there will also be several sub-groups.

In his opening remarks before his meeting with the European Commission president, PM Modi said relations between the EU and India were being taken to new heights under the leadership of von der Leyen.

Von der Leyen said strengthening the EU’s partnership with India is a priority because it is “one of our most important relationships for the coming decade”. The three main topics for this partnership are trade, technology and security, she added.

“That is why I am pleased that today Prime Minister Modi and I have agreed to establish an EU-India Trade and Technology Council (TTC). The EU has only one TTC so far, with the US, and I think it is telling that we now establish the second one with India,” she added.

The joint statement said, “Both sides agreed that rapid changes in the geopolitical environment highlight the need for joint in-depth strategic engagement.”

TTC will “provide the political steer and the necessary structure to operationalise political decisions, coordinate technical work, and report to the political level to ensure implementation and follow-up in areas” important for the sustainable progress of the Indian and European economies, the statement added.

The two sides, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, expressed confidence that the “shared values and common interests of the EU and India offer a strong basis to intensify mutually beneficial and deeper strategic cooperation”.

India and the EU are also determined to increase joint efforts to tackle current challenges and address geopolitical circumstances, the joint statement said. “Establishing the EU-India Trade and Technology Council is a key step towards a strengthened strategic partnership for the benefit of all peoples in the EU and India,” it added.

Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said the creation of this new council demonstrates the European anxiety over China's emerging tech lead and a desire to counter it through collaboration with democratic forces such as India.

"From both sides, there is also a realisation that China is exploiting this tech lead to extend domestic repression and expand surveillance over other countries, which can disrupt supply chains. The trade and technology council is a reflection of this," he said.

The move comes at a time when India and the EU have revived engagements for negotiating agreements on trade, investment and geographic indications.

Von der Leyen said the EU and India – which are vibrant democracies that support the rules-based international order – are “both facing a challenging global landscape”.

She noted that the two sides are starting negotiations toward comprehensive trade and investment agreements.

Describing energy security as one of the most pressing topics for India and Europe, she said: “The EU will diversify away from fossil fuels and will invest heavily in clean renewable energy. Therefore, cooperation with India not only on solar but also on green hydrogen is critical.”

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