Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma on Friday said India would work for concluding the comprehensive trade opening pact or the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union by the end of the year.

“We have made substantial progress on the trade, investment issues and other concerns. We are now looking at concrete issues to narrow down our disagreements and work in the positive direction. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen that the FTA with the EU is concluded within 2010,” Mr. Sharma said here.

He said although India was in talks with a number of countries, it was hoped that FTAs with Japan and Malaysia would be inked within this year.

Talks for an India-European Union FTA started in 2007. Eight rounds of negotiations have been completed till now, with both sides narrowing down disagreements on a number of issues, including definition of trade and investment.

Indian officials engaged in the negotiations said the FTA was expected to be concluded during the next India-EU summit-2010, likely to be held at the end of this year.

Mr. Sharma said the eight rounds were fruitful as the two sides made progress on several issues, including services, a key area of interest for India. “I have been told by my officials that the latest round has been very productive and many of the issues on services and investment have also been virtually settled.”

India’s trade with the EU has the potential of reaching $572 billion by 2015 once the FTA with the 27-nation economic bloc is implemented. Exports to the EU stood at $39.35 billion in 2008-09, while imports were $42.73 billion.

Major exports include coffee, tea, mineral fuels and apparels, while imports include organic chemicals, pearls and precious stones.

Mr. Sharma said the country had no shortage of pulses or edible oils and measures were in place to ensure their long term availability.

“Some of the pulses are in inadequate quantity, which has fuelled prices. I am sure that as more and more pulses are released, after imports, it will cool down the markets and the prices,” he added. Prices of pulses, or lentils, have helped push up food inflation. Food prices rose 17.9 per cent in the 12 months to January 30, higher than an annual rise of 17.6 per cent in the previous week.

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