April 29 meeting shores up hopes on India-EU trade, investment talks next month
Union commerce minister Piyush Goyal will hold a virtual meeting with Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission executive vice-president and commissioner of trade, on April 29, brightening the prospects for a firm start of negotiations on an India-European Union broad-based trade and investment agreement, people familiar with the matter said.
This is their second meeting in less than three months; the first was on February 5 when Piyush Goyal hosted the first India-EU high-level dialogue, or HLD, where the two sides had extensively discussed the state of play of India-EU bilateral trade and investment relations and the way forward. At this discussion also, Dombrovskis had reiterated the EU’s interest in resuming negotiations for ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade and investment agreements.
New Delhi expects the resumption of negotiations for the India-EU trade and the investment agreement at the India-EU Summit scheduled to be held on May 8 in Portugal’s Porto given the broad-based support to the pact within the EU. There is, however, a possibility that the summit could be advanced by a day to May 7 due to a change in French President Emmanuel Macron’s sked.
The topic had come up for discussion during the visit of French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian as well; he added weight to the forward movement by reassuring his Indian counterparts that Paris is committed to supporting the deal. The India-EU trade pact also came up during Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte’s summit-level meeting last week. Both sides expressed hope for early resumption of negotiations.
Indian officials suggest that the two sides have decided to hold negotiations on separate trade and investment pacts since they believe it will be easier to seal an agreement on investments. India’s investment agreements with most of the 27 members of the EU expired during 2017-18, leading to higher costs of investment and some uncertainty among European investors.
Officials said the contentious issues related to market access for an all-encompassing free trade agreement will take more time to be addressed.
The India-EU trade negotiations were launched in June 2007 but have been stalled since May 2013, when both sides failed to bridge the gaps on issues related to data security and sustainable development.
But this time both sides are more accommodating with the UK post-Brexit looking for a bilateral free trade agreement with India during Prime Minister Boris Johnson visit to India on April 25.
Officials acknowledge that there may be some uncertainty around the format of the India-EU Summit, which was to mark the resumption of negotiations for the trade and investment pacts, due to the surge in coronavirus cases As things stand, the plan is that PM Modi is scheduled to Portugal for the summit to be held in Porto, its second-largest metropolis after Lisbon, before flying to France for a crucial bilateral visit.
An official said the final call on holding the in-person summit is yet to be taken in view of the surge in Covid cases though all the leaders are vaccinated against Covid-19 and the situation in Portugal is considered to be under control
Portugal, according to news agency Reuters, imposed a lockdown in January to curb what was then the world’s worst Covid-19 surge but has started lifting restrictions from March, reopening some schools, restaurant and cafe terraces, museums and hair salons.