Sujay Mehdudia

Consensus arrived at for holding a Ministerial meeting in April

BRUSSELS: The prospects of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the European Union and India being wrapped up by the 2008-end deadline look very bleak with sharp differences having arisen over various issues — Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), competition, agriculture, public procurement, market access and transparency.

Although both sides have stated that good progress had been made in the first three rounds, officials in the 27-member block European Union feel that signing of the FTA by this year-end was near impossible.

Both India and EU were to present their proposals last month but that was postponed for the time being and efforts are on to set a new date sometime in April to get down to the task of sorting out differences in major issues. “Now the issues facing us are technical and more difficult. We have asked for a meeting in April and are awaiting a confirmation from the Indian side.

Rising trade

The FTA is unlikely to be finalised for the EU-India summit to be held in France this year although India has agreed to negotiate on issues which they had reservations,” a senior EU official associated with the talks told visiting Indian journalists.

The European Commission has sought addressing of issues such as competition policy, the rights of foreign investors, open government purchasing practices as well as environmental, social and human rights clauses. The EU-India trade has been on the rise in recent years and from 28 billion euro in 2003, it has reached 55 billion euro in 2006-07, registering a steady growth.

On the Doha round of trade talks, spokesman for the EU Commissioner for Trade, Peter Power, said a consensus had been arrived at for holding a Ministerial meeting in April. “The current situation in the U.S. is dictating the developments. The U.S. is keen to sign the final draft before the Presidential elections later this year. The stakes are extremely high and elements of concern still remain. EU believes it (agreement) can be done and must be done,” Mr. Power told journalists during an interaction in EU headquarters.