India, EU to discuss trade, ‘sensitive bilateral issues’ at Brussels Summit

Will witness an attempt from both sides to kick start the stalled talks on the Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement.

Updated - October 18, 2016 02:39 pm IST

Published - March 29, 2016 08:43 pm IST - BRUSSELS:

 The India EU summit will witness an attempt from both sides to kick start the stalled talks on the Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), a free trade agreement between India and the European Union. 

The talks have become a casualty of diplomatic tension between the two sides. The friction has been caused by various incidents, including India’s arrest in 2012 of Italian marines Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone, charged with killing two fishermen off the coast of Kerala.

Diplomatic fracas

Last year, a second diplomatic fracas, this time over the ban on 700 generic Indian drugs in the EU, on procedural grounds, struck a blow to the free trade talks.

 The EU is India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to $126 billion. The EU is also the largest export destination for India, and a source of $69 billion in FDI.  

“The summit will also provide an opportunity for leaders to raise more sensitive bilateral issues such as the ongoing international arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in regard to the case of two Italian marines, as well as the case of fourteen Estonian and six U.K. Guards sentenced to prison by an Indian court,” the EU said in a press statement on Tuesday.

Marines case

Coincidentally, oral arguments in the Marines case are being heard at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Wednesday.

In addition to the BTIA, the leaders are expected to endorse an EU-India Agenda for Action 2020 which will set strategic priorities for the next five years. Several of the expected joint declarations specifically address pet projects of the Modi government including the ‘Indo-EU Water Partnership’ regarding the Indian government’s ‘Clean Ganga’ and ‘Clean India’ projects and a  declaration on 5G spectrum networks which speaks to the Indian government’s ‘Digital India’ scheme as well as the EU’s ‘Digital Single Market.’

There will also be a declaration on clean energy and climate, which will form the basis of implementing a dialogue on climate and renewable energy between India and the EU following the Paris COP21 meetings of last year. 

CAMM, joint declaration on terror

A Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility (CAMM), addressing regular and irregular migration as well as trafficking, as well as a joint declaration on terrorism are expected to be adopted during Mr. Modi’s visit.

The counter-terrorism declaration was already on the cards prior to the March 22 terror attack in Brussels, but has come into sharp focus since then.

Brussels attacks

 “There is little doubt that the events of last week in Brussels ... are bound to have an influence on the discussions and in fact to cast a shadow on them,” Manjeev Singh Puri, India’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU, told  The Hindu  on Monday.

Belgium has not yet asked the Indian government for any form of specific help regarding investigations around the Brussels bombing but if asked, India was ready to help, Mr. Puri said.

Discussions on Ukraine

The summit is likely to involve discussions on Ukraine and a call for all countries to respect the Minsk Agreements, the 2015 agreement to maintain peace in Ukraine, to which Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are signatories. The Afghan peace process, and the South Asian region are also likely to feature in Wednesday’s talks, according to a EU press statement.

The first half of Mr. Modi’s day in Brussels will comprise his first official visit to Belgium and will include a ceremonial welcome, a ‘tête-à-tête’ between the two Prime Ministers, a lunch with business heads, and the technical activation of a telescope near Nainital.  This will be followed by the India EU summit, which includes a working dinner. Later that evening, Mr. Modi is expected to meet approximately 5,000 Indian expats at the Brussels Expo auditorium. 

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