India, EU set to start negotiations on 3 agreements during May 8 virtual summit
India and the European Union (EU) are expected to launch negotiations on three agreements – on trade, investment protection and geographical indications – during their virtual summit on May 8 as part of efforts to drive economic recovery amid the Covid-19 crisis.
The two sides will unveil a connectivity partnership based on a shared approach towards transparent connectivity initiatives that respect international standards and provide fair opportunities to Indian and European companies, senior EU officials told a briefing on Thursday. This will only be the EU’s second connectivity partnership after a similar arrangement with Japan.
The heads of state or government of all 27 members of the EU are expected to gather in the Portuguese city of Porto for the virtual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi – only the second time such a gathering will be held following the EU’s meeting with US President Joe Biden in March.
The trade negotiations are being seen as a resumption of talks with India that stalled in 2013 because of differences on issues such market access for European products and mobility for Indian professionals.
“We expect the leaders to endorse the launch of negotiations on three agreements – on trade, investment protection and geographical indications and this is a major step,” said a senior EU official, adding the move would be helpful in boosting recovery from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
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A second official said the talks are expected to lead to a breakthrough towards balanced, comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreements. “After almost eight years of suspension of free trade talks, we will agree to resume these and this opens up the way to a possible free trade agreement between us,” he said.
The officials described the connectivity partnership as a key deliverable of the summit that will boost cooperation in rail, maritime and air transport, and also cover digital initiatives and infrastructure development.
The two sides will also take steps aimed at shaping global standards for digital technologies and data management, and operationalise a joint task force on artificial intelligence (AI), the officials said.
“We have a common vision on data protection, network security, privacy and AI, and will collaborate on setting global standards in these areas,” the second official said, adding that the two sides were pooling their super computing resources to boost modelling on the Covid crisis and climate change.
The officials described the resumption of the human rights dialogue with India after a pause of eight years as a key development in view of the EU’s commitment to human rights and equal opportunities.
“We fully respect India as a secular democracy. Human rights are very much an important part of the political dialogue between the EU and India...One important message that we underlined was the important role that civil society actors and journalists play in a vibrant democracy,” the first official said. He acknowledged that the farmers’ protest in India had figured in recent talks between the two sides.
Other issues expected to figure in the summit are cooperation on maritime security, cyber-security and counter-terrorism, enhanced collaboration to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific, the signing of a working arrangement between Europol and its Indian counterpart to coordinate in the fight against terror and organised crime, the situation in Afghanistan and Myanmar, and efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
The officials were circumspect on the issue of possible EU support for a waiver of patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines but said the bloc understands the reasons behind India’s decision to suspend vaccine exports following a massive surge in Coronavirus infections.
The officials said EU is ready to assess how the US proposal to support the waiver of patent protections can help, but called on all vaccine producing countries without pressing domestic needs to allow exports and avoid measures that disrupt supply chains.
The officials said the two sides are expected to agree on cooperation on resilient medical supply chains, distribution of vaccines and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and preparing for future pandemics and global health emergencies, including the strengthening of the WHO.
EU President Charles Michel, who has proposed an international treaty on pandemics to help strengthen the WHO, is keen to work with India in this field, they said.
The officials also said EU member states had so far provided equipment and supplies worth 100 million euros for India’s Covid-19 response and the bloc had announced emergency support of 2.2 million euros for the WHO to help with testing.