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‘It will be senseless to start FTA talks from scratch’

The Hindu, Business Line, India

The BL Interview

‘It will be senseless to start FTA talks from scratch’

By Nayanima Basu

8 January 2016

The newly-appointed European Union (EU) Ambassador to India Tomasz Kozlowski said it will not make any sense if the free trade agreement (FTA) talks start from the very beginning. In his first interview to the media, Kozlowski said the EU is preparing its strategy before the chief negotiators of the two countries meet on January 18. Excerpts:

Are you willing to begin negotiations for the FTA or Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) from the scratch as has been hinted by India?

On January 18 there will a stock-taking meeting between the chief negotiators from the European and Indian sides. It does not mean that there is an agreement to resume negotiations. The main purpose of the meeting is to assess the situation — what is our room for manoeuvres and how can we take it forward.

So much work has already been done. We have already achieved a lot in all these months of negotiations. It will be senseless to start from the scratch.

So the EU is not seeing the January 18 meeting as the resumption of FTA talks?

There is no decision yet on the resumption of the negotiations. And in this context, I would like to underline that the EU is interested in concluding a comprehensive and ambitious FTA with India.

But, the issue of tariff elimination on automobiles and wines and spirits still remains…

Let us see. We are preparing our position before the stock-taking meeting. The Indian side is doing the same. Two years have passed since the last talks were held. We remain committed to have a comprehensive and ambitious FTA with India, which was stated in our trade strategy published in September last year.

The EU had always insisted on including issues of labour standards, environment in trade talks, which India calls extraneous. Do you still maintain the same position?

All these issues are important and sensitive for the European Parliament. That is why usually such issues are part of trade agreements with other countries. This is our policy.

What about India’s demand for having a ‘data secured’ nation status, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had even stated publicly?

Data protection and data exchanges are sensitive issues for the Europeans.

That is why any agreement that will facilitate data exchange should take into account reciprocity. We want to ensure that the level of data protection in India is satisfactory for the EU. This will be discussed during the FTA talks.

Will the annual India-EU Summit take place in April?

We have not had a summit meeting with India since 2012. For partners it is not a positive signal. We think a clear political push is needed for our bilateral relations. Dates have not been finalised yet. We hope it will be in the first half of this year.

But, isn’t the EU linking it with the Italian marines’ detention issue outcome that is now up for international arbitration? Also, do you support Italy vetoing India’s membership application to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)?

No. The European leadership is fully committed to move bilateral relations forward.

The marines’ case is a subject of international arbitration — a bilateral issue between India and Italy. As regards MTCR, it is a bilateral issue between India and Italy.

But, if there is issue of bilateral relations between India and a member-state, then of course we will take notice. This is not EU-India matter. As I understand, the EU does not have a position in India’s membership to the MTCR, member-states do.

While Trans-Pacific Partnership has been signed, talks between EU and the US on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have progressed substantially, Doha still remains a dead-end. What potential do you see in having a deal with India?

India for EU is a very important partner in many fields, including in the trade field. Our trade turnover is $100 billion.

French President François Hollande is visiting India this month as the Republic Day chief guest. There are talks that the deal to purchase Rafale fighter jets might get through. What is your opinion?

The EU is a strange creation.

We are extremely happy and supportive to the development of bilateral relations between India and member-states.