New Delhi: India and the European Union (EU) on Friday failed to fix a date to re-launch negotiations on the proposed bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA), or a timeline to successfully conclude the talks that “were temporarily put on hold in summer 2013.”
The negotiations on the FTA, known officially as the Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), were launched in 2007 to boost “trade flows in goods and services, bilateral investments and access to public procurement.”
A Joint Statement during 14th India-EU Summit held on Friday in the national capital only said the leaders of both the sides have “… noted the ongoing efforts ... to re-engage actively towards timely re-launching negotiations for a comprehensive and mutually beneficial India-EU BTIA.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, remarked at the joint press conference with the European Council President Donald Tusk and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of the bilateral Summit that “…it is time for an FTA between India and the EU.”
However, he added, “Once the circumstances are right – and only once the circumstances are right – we will resume. Today's Summit is an important step in the right direction and our chief negotiators will sit down in the next coming days to chart a way forward.” He repeated this statement during the India-EU Business Forum, and added that there will be a bilateral meeting soon at the level of the trade ministers to tackle the issue of the impasse. He added, however, that “I don’t want to raise the expectations (to a level) that we can’t meet.”
The talks have been deadlocked due to issues including India’s pitch for a ‘data secure’ status (important for India's IT sector to do more business with EU firms) as well as to ease norms on temporary movement of skilled workers. Besides, there are also differences over the EU’s demands on elimination of India’s duties on goods such as automobiles and wines and spirits. It is also learnt that while the EU is keen on finalisation of an India-EU Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) before the re-launch of the FTA talks, India wants to make ‘investment protection’ a part of the negotiations on the proposed comprehensive FTA.
Mr. Juncker said, “Beyond the free flow of goods and services, we should also step up work to ensure the free flow of personal data between your great nation and the European continent. This is why I stressed … the importance on the need to agree to the highest standards of data protection.” He further said, “Indian companies have specialised in offering back office and IT services to European companies. Many of these services – and the jobs that go with them – depend on the exchange of data. If India's standards of data protection are converging with those of the EU, the EU will be in a position to recognise the adequacy of India's rules. This is a precondition for exchanging personal data freely and securely.”
According to the Delegation of the EU to India, “when concluded, this (FTA) would be one of the world’s largest trade agreements, touching the lives of 1.7 billion people.” It said, “Substantial progress has been made even if some outstanding issues have impeded the finalization of the negotiating process. Key areas that need to be further discussed include improved market access for some goods and services, government procurement, geographical indications, sound investment protection rules and sustainable development.”