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Minister-level meeting next month on India-EU free trade agreement

Economic Times, India

Minister-level meeting next month on India-EU free trade agreement

20 May 2012

PTI/NEW DELHI: In a bid to fast track the much-delayed negotiations for the proposed free trade agreement between India and European Union, commerce minister Anand Sharma will hold comprehensive discussions with EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht next month in Brussels.

"Before the minister level meeting which is likely by end of next month, chief negotiators of both the sides would meet to monitor the progress of the talks underway since 2007," a Commerce and Industry Ministry official said.

The chief negotiators would deliberate on issues like opening of services sector, which are still unresolved, the official said.

The agreement, officially dubbed as Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) seeks to liberalise trade in goods and services and is likely to be concluded by this year-end.

"After this June meeting, we will able to make whether both the sides can conclude the negotiations this year or not," the official added.

These talks were to conclude in 2011, but differences between the two sides on the level of opening of the market came in the way of the BTIA.

Inclusion of intellectual property rights (IPRs) is one of the areas on which consensus is yet to be achieved.

Indian pharma companies and some non-government bodies have expressed concern that inclusion of IPR in the proposed agreement would affect the sector’s ability to produce and export low-cost drugs.

BITA will provide for liberalising trade in services, an area of strength for India, which faces hurdles like visa problems in several EU member countries such as Germany and Britain.

"EU also wants India to open its services sector like accountancy, insurance, banking and retail," the official said adding the talks are also stuck on issues such as reduction in tariffs on cars and spirits imported from the EU.

During the recent India-EU Summit, the two sides agreed to expedite the discussions to conclude the pact soon.

The two-way trade stood at $91.3 billion in 2010-11. A Ficci report said that trade is likely to more than double to exceed $207 billion by 2015, if the trade pact is formalised.

The country and its largest trading partner, the 27-nation EU, aim to slash duties on over 90 per cent of the trade under the pact.

India has already implemented comprehensive FTAs with countries such as Japan, Malaysia and South Korea.