India, EU firm up agenda for summit, discuss free trade

January 16th, 2012 - 9:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Jan 16 (IANS) India and the European Union Monday held wide-ranging talks on trade and security issues to firm up the agenda for their summit next month.

Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said she was pleased with the progress of talks on an EU-India free trade agreement, but indicated that it needs more time.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna held talks with the EU’s chief diplomat to give a push to negotiations for their long-pending trade and investment accord and to expand the canvas of their strategic partnership.

“We have reiterated our commitments to intensify our cooperation in diverse fields, including trade and investment, movement of peoples, energy, science and technology and counter-terrorism,” he said after the talks.

Krishna pitched for a bigger role for the EU and India on the global stage.

“India welcomes the enhanced role of the European Union on the world stage. Both India and the EU have important roles to play in the international arena,” he said.

Krishna also expressed hope for revival of the European economy that is still reeling from the blowback of the global recession.

“India believes that a revival of European economies and Europe’s continued growth is in the interest of the international community, including India. We sincerely wish EU success in the efforts for combating the crisis,” he said.

The two sides reviewed the progress in their negotiations on a broad-based trade and investment agreement that is bogged down in differences and hard bargaining over issues like tariff barriers and the bid by the EU to link trade with environment.

However, Ashton clarified that a sustainable FTA needs agreement on technical details as well as political issues.

The summit meeting in February will aim to sort out such details, but “as you would expect, it takes some time,” she said.

The EU has lobbied hard for steep reduction in tariffs for export of its automobiles, wines and spirits to India. However, the Indian automobile industry is fiercely opposed to any kind duty cuts and has argued that it will hurt domestic manufacturers.

The EU has also been pushing India to open financial sectors such as banking and insurance, postal, legal, accounting, maritime as well as security and the retail sector.

India and the EU have been negotiating Broad-based Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) for over five years. The EU is India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade estimated at over $75 billion.

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