India, E.U. set to relaunch FTA talks, discuss post-pandemic recovery at summit

India, E.U. set to relaunch FTA talks, discuss post-pandemic recovery at summit

Prime Minister Modi will take part in a virtual meeting with 27 European leaders, hosted by Portugal on May 8

India and the European Union are expected to make a ‘breakthrough’ announcement to finally relaunch talks for a comprehensive trade and investment treaty on Saturday, officials said.

The announcement, which will resume talks on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) or free trade agreement that have been frozen since 2013, will be made as Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes part in a virtual meeting with 27 European leaders, that is hosted by Portugal on May 8. During the summit, the two sides will also announce agreements on enhancing infrastructure and connectivity, climate change and green transition, and on cooperation to deal with the pandemic response and recovery, and a joint mechanism on Artificial Intelligence.

“We expect the leaders to endorse the launch of negotiations on three agreements: trade, investment protection and geographical indications. This is a major step. The E.U. is one of India’s largest trading partners, largest foreign investors, but there is a huge potential to grow trade and jobs which will be very important for both during the recovery from the pandemic,” said E.U. officials, briefing the media ahead of Saturday’s meeting. The officials referred to PM Modi’s telephone call with E.U. Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, who has put in action the E.U.’s aid to India for the pandemic, including $100 million in supplies, delivered through its civil protection mechanism.

The trade announcement would follow a high-level dialogue involving Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and E.U. Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis in February, who have been attempting to forge the FTA talks resumption that the two sides had failed to make in 2015, when PM Modi had visited Brussels. To a question from The Hindu, an E.U. official who did not want to be identified said the resumed talks would pick up right from where they left off in 2013. The talks are expected to bring together India’s separate bilateral trade ties with different European countries, establish an investment protection agreement and would look at how to remove trade irritants like Indian duties on wines and automobiles, and E.U. resistance to the mobility of Indian workers.

“Resumption of negotiations doesn’t mean the deal is done though. One can hope these negotiations will focus on current challenges including supply chain resilience and post-pandemic recovery,” said expert Garima Mohan, Fellow, German Marshall Fund, adding that the momentum on talks by India has been expedited in the past year.

The connectivity partnership announcement will be seen as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative(BRI) with a shared approach that the official said was for projects that are “transparent, viable, sustainable, respect international standards, and fair to all companies”.

The joint statement issued by the leaders is also expected to discuss human rights issues, including cooperation at the Security Council. In April, the government agreed to hold a dialogue with the E.U. on human rights, which it had not scheduled for eight years, a significant shift after a year when the E.U. issued several statements on Kashmir, CAA, Delhi riots, farmers’ protests and the government’s action against NGOs, journalists and civil society organisations.

“We expect the leaders to affirm a clear commitment to human rights and equal opportunities,” the official said.

Announcing the talks, the Ministry of External Affairs said the leaders would discuss “COVID-19 pandemic and healthcare cooperation; growth and regional and global matters of mutual interest,” and pointed out that the India-E.U. leaders meeting format has only been adopted by the E.U. for the United States President so far.

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