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UK wants India-EU trade deal by 2010 to protect jobs, increase trade

IANS via Times of India | Feb 23, 2010

UK wants India-EU trade deal by 2010 to protect jobs, increase trade

LONDON: With agreement stalled on a number of issues, including India’s demand for European countries to open up their borders to skilled Indian IT workers in return for European legal professionals to work in India, Britain is pushing for rapid conclusion of a long-delayed free trade agreement between India and the 27-nation Europe Union, saying it was holding up trade and jobs at both ends.

Britain’s International Development Minister Gareth Thomas told a meeting in Brussels on Monday that Europe and India must not allow discussions that began in 2007 to get "stuck in the weeds" and try to conclude it by 2010. His call came just weeks after Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson, the number two in the British cabinet, told visiting Commerce Minister Anand Sharma at a meeting in London that New Delhi must move swiftly on the EU-India free trade agreement.

"The negotiations are progressing very slowly and I would urge all those round the table to do everything in their power to ensure that discussion in 2010 do not get stuck in the weeds as we pursue a positive outcome," Thomas said.

While European professionals are allowed to move about freely in each other’s countries, New Delhi complains these borders have remained largely shut to Indian workers as immigration remains a sensitive political issue in Europe, with restrictions tightened further in times of elections.

These issues were also discussed in a parallel forum - the World Trade Organisation in Geneva - but those so-called Doha talks collapsed last year, prompting Thomas to showcase the European FTA as an alternative.

"In lieu of a final agreement on the Doha trade round, it is important to have an agreement in place that protects jobs by creating more opportunities for increased trade," Thomas said.

Trade between India and the EU is worth over 55 billion euro to the EU - almost a fifth of the money coming to Britain. The agreement is important for creating jobs in Europe as it emerges from its worst recession in history.

British interest in the agreement is particularly strong - the EU is India’s most economically important trading partner with 18.7 percent of Indian exports coming to the EU. Of those exports, 17.7 percent come to Britain.

But agreement has faltered with India and the EU accusing each other of imposing tariff and non-tariff barriers, such as restrictions on the free movement of workers.

Thomas said: "The benefits of an EU-India trade deal would be felt by businesses on both sides and this in turn will benefit millions of people whose employment relies on the import and export trade."

During their meeting in London Feb 4, Sharma told Mandelson that India had signed a free trade agreement with the Southeast Asian countries of the ASEAN region and was on course to concluding the European FTA too.

 source: ToI