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`The EU puts substance before timing’

Times of India

`The EU puts substance before timing’

Deep K Datta-Ray

9 March 2011

On the cusp of realising a Free Trade Agreement with India, the European Union (EU) is already an important trading partner. The ambassador, Head of Delegation of the European Union to India, Daniele Smadja , spoke to Deep K Datta-Ray:

What does the Indo-EU FTA intend to secure?
The FTA is a very important agreement that would provide a firm springboard for a mutually beneficial expansion in the area of trade. We are very hopeful that it will be concluded this year as there is clear political direction from the highest levels. We are actively engaged in negotiations and we are also making rapid progress. But this is an extremely complex process which takes a lot of time and while deadlines are important, the EU puts substance before timing. We’re at a critical stage and both governments are working towards a common ground. When realised, the FTA will also facilitate the temporary movement of professionals. This will be under Mode 4 of the WTO.

In trading matters, is there a jurisdictional overlap between the EU and its member states?
No! Trade policy is the competence of the EU. The 27 EU members cannot negotiate individually with India or any other country. The EU does the negotiating and i, for example, represent the EU’s broad range of interests here in India. If European companies face trade barriers in India, then the EU takes it up with the concerned department on behalf of its member states. On the other hand, member states do trade promotion within the broad parameters negotiated by the EU. So you will see my colleagues, for example the German or the Finnish ambassador representing the particular interests of individual companies like Siemens or Nokia - and not so much me. There is a division of labour and we coordinate our positions at our monthly meetings.

To linger on trade, what can be done to expedite the FTA negotiations?

Once negotiations are completed, the European Parliament has to ratify the FTA. Our Parliament has to be satisfied with the result. In the case of the EU and India, we have one great asset. We are more complementary than competitors but there is a need for more dialogue, especially between parliamentarians. There is an EU parliamentary delegation for India which visits regularly to understand issues. We are waiting for such a reciprocal initiative in either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha as this would improve communication. Better interaction amongst the most august of our institutions would also sensitise both parties about how to encourage, in a sustainable manner, trade and development. Both must take place, but it would be irresponsible to encourage them at the expense of social and environmental concerns.

Moving onto the social and political, does the EU perceive India as a model?
Our strategic partnership is very rich and includes many policy dialogues in areas as diverse as environment, energy, migration, culture, security etc. This is because we not only want to cooperate with each other but also want to learn from each other’s experiences in developing our respective policy. Both the EU and India are committed to the same set of universal values, share the same motto ’unity in diversity’ and place secularism at the centre of our society. But our approaches may be different. For example, the Indian experience, given its great civilisation, in dealing with cultural diversity is a source of inspiration to us, as the diversity of our society is more recent. Also the EU is still very much a work in progress and India too is moving very fast. We both, I think, can learn considerably from each other.