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Both the EU and the Indian Government are Enthusiastic to Resume FTA Talks


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Both India and the EU are seen as enthusiastic to resume long-awaited talks on a bilateral free trade agreement that was on hold for almost eight years. Fresh negotiations are expected to focus on key issues including access to each other’s markets for goods and services, investment protection and geographical indications. The commerce minister announced the Indian government’s plan to revive talks in September 2020 and was further confirmed during the India-EU leaders’ Meet in May 2021.

The introductory talks on broad-based trade and investment agreement (BTIA) are likely to begin in September after being suspended in 2013 due to non-agreement between the two parties over issues including reduction of import duties on automobiles and alcohol; greater access to the financial services market by Indian companies and; higher mobility for Indian professionals in the European countries by liberalizing the visa regime.

The BTIA will be based on initial recommendations from industry groups. As per the Trade Policy Council of India, the trade deal will be beneficial for the country.

For the EU, this will be the first such FTA with an emerging economy.

The Indian government has been eager to restart the trade negotiations as it wants to establish trade pacts with countries that are not under Chinese influence. The ” Make in India” and “Atma Nirbhar” campaigns to put India as a regional leader and global manufacturing hub are also one of the reasons for initiating talks on trade agreements. Economically, a well-negotiated FTA will promote trade and investment flows and would attract European businesses for company formation in India.

On the other hand, the EU is willing to re-establish strong economic and trade ties with India through the BTIA especially after Brexit and wants to strengthen its role in governing global trade. For Europe, the FTA would provide access for EU businesses to the huge Indian market of more than 1.3 billion people including vast skilled resources and cost-competitive professional services e.g. accounting and payroll services in India.

According to the European Commission, the EU is the third-largest trading partner of India, accounting for 62.8 billion euro worth of trade in goods in 2020 which comes as 11.1% of total Indian trade, after China, 12 % and the US, 11.7 %. The UK was the largest trading partner among all the European nations and accounted for bilateral trade worth 12.29 billion dollars with India in 2020-21. Trade-in services between the EU and India touched 39.78 billion dollars in 2020.

Export promotion councils in India have been advised by the Commerce Ministry to identify sensitive areas and product & service types requiring protection including those needing greater access to the EU market. Besides the Export Promotion Councils, several industry bodies including CII, Ficci and the FIEO have also been asked to offer recommendations.

Arpita Mukherjee, a trade economist of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) spoke favourably for a mutually beneficial trade agreement however commenting “I do not think that the negotiations are less complex now and we need to be prepared for the negotiations. There are new areas of negotiations like e-commerce or public sector enterprises or carbon tax. India needs to have industry consultations and conduct research to develop a position that is beneficial for the country.”

“There are some sectors where both India and the EU had reached a consensus when they decided to put the negotiations on hold in 2014. These include reduction in tariffs in many products, for example, zero for zero in case of apparels,” she remarked.

Mukherjee also highlighted saying “It may be easier to move forward if such sectors are not opened up again for tariff discussions. Some issues that India had raised earlier like intra-EU labour mobility-related issues have been addressed by an EU Directive.  This can be resolved easily.”

“India has discontinued its bilateral investment treaties with the EU member states and hence the focus of the EU is to have a clear and transparent investment agreement. The EU may look at EU-China as a model investment agreement to be replicated with India and the Indian side needs to see whether we are ready to discuss issues like public sector enterprises, and subsidies,” she added.

More than 15 rounds of talks had happened on the BTIA over 6 years from 2007 and 2013 however couldn’t be concluded as India chose to discontinue the then-existing bilateral investment treaties (BITs) in 2016 with 23 EU nations. The EU though asked India to let individual agreements remain enforced until a new deal is struck.

The Indian government has made it clear that all future negotiations on trade and investment need to be negotiated under the model BIT framework issued in 2015 that would refer to individual deal agreements with other countries.

The FTA should be a win-win for both India and the EU and help promote the benefits of globalization which have been adversely impacted due to geopolitics over the last two decades.


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