PM Narendra Modi (File image: PTI)
India and the European Union on Saturday announced the resumption of talks for a free trade agreement, eight years after its suspension, and agreed to launch negotiations for two key pacts on investment protection and geographical indications.
These decisions were taken at a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leaders of 27 member nations of the bloc during which the two sides also unveiled an ambitious connectivity partnership. In his remarks, Modi invited the EU to support a proposal by India and South Africa to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines so that there can be equitable vaccine access for the entire world, officials said.
However, there was no concrete decision on the matter from the EU. Secretary(West) in the Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup said the two sides agreed to resume negotiations for a balanced and comprehensive free trade and investment agreements and that talks on both the pacts will be pursued on parallel tracks with an intention to achieve early conclusion of both of them.
The negotiations for the ambitious free trade agreement, launched in 2007, were suspended in 2013 amid disagreements over crucial issues, including tariff rules and market access. A joint statement said both sides agreed to start negotiations on a separate agreement on geographical indications which could be concluded separately or integrated into the trade pact, depending on the pace of talks.
Swarup said the connectivity partnership reflected the ambition of both sides to build on their synergies and pursue sustainable joint projects in third countries, most notably in the Africa, Central Asia and Indo-Pacific region. He said the leaders underlined their commitment to a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific and discussed the new avenues of cooperation in the region.
"It is a watershed moment in the India-EU strategic partnership. It is a culmination of India's efforts to enhance its ties with the EU and its member states in recent years," Swarup saiad at a media briefing. On trade, the joint statement said the High-Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment has been tasked to ensure progress on market access issues and supervise negotiations, as well as keep progress on cooperation on regulatory aspects and resilient value chains under review.
"We confirmed the potential and need for swift engagement in areas where both sides shared interest to deepen economic cooperation. To this end, we agreed to create a joint working group to intensify regulatory cooperation on goods and services, including but not limited to the green and digital technologies," it said. The two sides also agreed to set up a joint working group on resilient supply chains, building inter alia on the experience they have gained from the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.
Referring to the connectivity partnership, the statement said it upholds international law, conforms with international norms and affirms the shared values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for international commitments. "Our Partnership will promote a transparent, viable, inclusive, sustainable, comprehensive, and rules-based connectivity. It is based on principles of social, economic, fiscal, climate and environmental sustainability and a level playing field for economic operators," it said.