Significant progress recorded during recent negotiations, says joint declaration

Widening and deepening their strategic partnership, India and the 27-member European Union have agreed to strengthen cooperation on a wide range of issues, including counter terrorism, a new initiative to improve cultural ties, on legal agreements on extradition, and above all, to redouble efforts to ensure that by early next year a free trade agreement is ready for signatures.

Even as it looked that an agreement on movement of professionals was very much on the cards, despite earlier resistance by the EU, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for “taking the lead in avoiding protectionist trends, keeping markets open and encouraging the free flow of and movement of people” by the two sides.

He said this in a statement at a joint press conference also addressed by Presidents of the European Council and EU Commission, H.Van Rompuy and J.M. Barroso respectively.

The mood was upbeat about resolving tricky issues, on which the EU has to arrive at a consensus first and then agree to resolve it with India. Europe's recent financial problems have not helped matters, but it seems that India will have its say on movement of professionals, on proper laws to prevent seizure of generic drugs at European ports on way to third countries.

In the two-page joint declaration released here on Friday it was said that an “ambitious” and “balanced” broad-based trade and investment agreement would bring significant economic benefits to both India and the EU. It was noted that “significant progress was recorded during recent negotiations” and there was agreement on “the contours of a final package,” which could be concluded by the spring of 2011.

A business summit was held on the sidelines and as Dr. Singh indicated, there are vast opportunities for Europe to invest in India in infrastructure areas, high technology, research, clean energy (solar energy was mentioned at the joint press conference), skill development and vocational training.

It was also agreed — as reflected in the joint statement — that in the field of easy movement of professionals and other people, an important issue for India, the two sides should have regular, structured and comprehensive dialogue.

Safeguards

Responding to questions, Dr. Singh allayed fears that if any agreement was reached on free trade in agricultural products small and medium farmers in India would be adversely affected. He said adequate “safeguards” could be put in place to take care of the concerns of farmers and small businesses.

Although much space and time was devoted to mutual help and cooperation in the areas of counter terrorism and security related issues — a joint India-EU declaration on international terrorism was issued — there was not enough clarity on the EU position in relation to Afghanistan, especially after 2014 by when European and American forces are expected to withdraw from the country. Mr. Rompuy did not respond when asked directly about the EU taking on board Pakistan's interests and concerns as it was a NATO ally rather than India's. Instead, he said the EU was committed for the long-term to reconstruction and stabilisation in Afghanistan.

However, in the joint statement on terrorism, there was mention of opportunities for coordination on a financial task force of the EU countries and India that would try to prevent terrorists from gaining access to financial resources. For this, “best practices” on financial controls to be put into place would be shared.

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