logo logo

India calls for ‘greater urgency’ in trade negotiations with EU

Hindustan Times | 27 January 2022

India calls for ‘greater urgency’ in trade negotiations with EU

By Rezaul H Laskar, New Delhi

India wants “greater urgency” and “faster movement” in negotiations with the European Union (EU) for trade and investment pacts, though there are challenges such as the demands of the 27-member bloc and non-trade issues, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday.

Jaishankar made the remarks while participating in a virtual conversation with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian that focused on the EU-India partnership in the Indo-Pacific during the French presidency of the bloc. Le Drian announced France will host a ministerial forum on the Indo-Pacific on February 22 to come up with concrete proposals for cooperation in security and defence, connectivity and digital, and global challenges.

The two foreign ministers spoke extensively on cooperation between India and France within the Indo-Pacific region on a wide range of issues, including Covid-19 vaccines, regulations for the blue economy, connectivity projects that are transparent and respect the sovereignty, and promoting regional peace and stability.

When Jaishankar was asked by the moderator of the discussion about India-EU negotiations for trade and investment agreements, he cited two specific challenges in the case of the European bloc – the involvement so 27 countries, and the need to “harmonise and prioritise” their demands and some non-trade issues.

Negotiators from both sides have been in touch since India, and the EU agreed at a virtual summit last year to resume negotiations after a hiatus of eight years and are “quite active”, he said. “There has been movement but obviously the expectation level is high. We would like to see greater urgency, faster movement,” he said.

India is “quite ready” to move faster and is hoping the progress in similar negotiations with other countries “adds to our credibility where Brussels is concerned”, Jaishankar said.

Le Drian remarked that trade discussions are never easy, and bound to be complicated when they involve as many players as the 27 members of the EU. “The path is sometimes difficult, but if the will is there, we will get there,” he said.

Recent reports have suggested that India and the EU are working to finalise an investment agreement before they take up the more complicated issue of a free trade pact.

Le Drian outlined France’s plan to organise a ministerial forum on the Indo-Pacific on February 22, which he said would be the first such event during his country’s presidency of the EU. The forum will focus on three areas – security and defence, connectivity and digital, and global challenges – and will be part of efforts to preserve an Indo-Pacific governed by rule of law, he said.

It is also part of a stronger European commitment to face up to the security challenges of the vast region, and will come up with concrete proposals to tackle such issues in line with the EU’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific, he said.

“We wish to work within this forum for the emergence of a production capacity of a vaccine for all of the indo-Pacific because the production of a key challenge to which we can bring collective answers,” Le Drian said, speaking in French.

There is also a proposal for India and the EU to create an “Indo-Pacific campus on health” that will foster exchanges in training, innovation, and cooperation on pharmaceutical products. Le Drian suggested this campus could be based in India as a “symbol of the common will to make the Indo-Pacific an area of sharing and partnership”.

At the same time, the EU is working on a “coordinated maritime presence” in the Indo-Pacific for greater stability and better security in the region, he said.

Both Jaishankar and Le Drian said the close cooperation between India and France in a range of key areas could serve as a foundation for collaboration within the EU framework in the Indo-Pacific.

Jaishankar said India’s position on connectivity partnerships and the EU’s Global Gateway initiative for smart and secure links in the digital, energy and transport sectors are based on similar principles, including democratic values, good governance, transparency, commercial viability, local ownership, and respect for the territorial integrity of countries.

 source: Hindustan Times