Final leg of negotiations between the two parties in September: Union Commerce Secretary

The Central government is hopeful of concluding the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU) by the end of this year.

According to Union Commerce Secretary S.R. Rao, the final leg of negotiations between the two parties is likely to be held in September. The deal was likely to be concluded as “we have closed most of the issues”. India was exploring options for widening its engagement with ASEAN countries while negotiations with Pakistan on FTA were well on way.

Mr. Rao, who was talking to reporters here on Saturday, said, “They (the EU) want us to take a relook at one or two issues in view of the situation there and accordingly, we are recalibrating our approach,” he said.

Biggest trading partner

The FTA is aimed at helping the growing Indian companies to expand into the EU which, according to officials, was the biggest trading partner of India buying an estimated US $ 50 billion goods and services. European Union, on its part, could access the market of 1.3 billion potential customers, predominantly youth.

The government had initiated negotiations with Australia and New Zealand for signing FTAs. The proposed negotiations with Pakistan involving officials at the Commerce Secretary level had to be postponed at the request of the neighbouring country. “The agreement between India and Pakistan will be good, hopefully,” he said.

Rating agencies faulted

Addressing the participants, he faulted rating agencies like Moody’s and Standards and Poor, for down rating India and asserted that the country continues to be the second biggest growing economy. “Down rating India is probably their (agencies’) perception. It is totally misplaced in my view. There is nothing wrong with the economy and the only thing wrong is the mood,” he said.

On the complaints from the industry over infrastructure, power and other bottlenecks, he recalled how the Visakhapatnam Port turned around by spending Rs. 2.5 crore while the expenditure for making the port functional was pegged at Rs. 200 crore. He wanted industrialists to get back to the basics and rediscover themselves.