India and the European Union committed to a framework for strategic cooperation until 2025, and vowed to cooperate on their response to the coronavirus pandemic, and at the United Nations Security Council.
The assurances came as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with the European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen via video-conferencing on Wednesday.
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In a new initiative to revive talks on a free trade agreement that have been suspended since 2013, the two sides announced a “high level dialogue” between Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and E.U. Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan to try and take the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) forward.
“India and the E.U. are natural partners,” said Mr. Modi in his opening remarks. “Our partnership is important for global peace and stability, and this reality is clearer given the situation around the world,” he added. He also referred to shared “universal values” of democracy, pluralism, inclusivity, respect for international institutions and multilateralism between India and the E.U.
In particular, officials said the leaders discussed India’s tensions with China at the Line of Actual Control, the situation with Iran, and concerns over cross border terrorism from Pakistan. The EU leadership also raised concerns over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as well as the Citizenship Amendment Act.
“Regarding the Citizenship law, you know that in the European Parliament this was an important topic, and we raised this issue in our talks. I would like to say that we trust Indian institutions. We understand the Supreme Court will have a role to play to assess this legislation,” said Mr. Michel at a press briefing after the talks.
“We took a decision with India to continue a dialogue on human rights in order to exchange best practices and have the best understanding on how to tackle this issue for India and the E.U.,” he added.
When asked at the briefing whether the E.U. valued its strategic ties with India or China more, Ms. Von der Leyen said ties with both countries were “very different”, although they had a common interest in tackling climate change, and building trade.
“The difference is indeed that we share with India that we are democracies, and [we are] committed to defending our values,” said Ms. Von der Leyen, who has visited India in her past role as German Defence Minister.
The two sides issued a joint political statement, a five-year roadmap for the India-E.U. strategic partnership, a civil nuclear research and development cooperation agreement between EURATOM and the Department of Atomic Energy, a declaration on “resource efficiency and circular economy” to exchange best practices in range of areas and the renewal of their science and technology agreement for another five years.
Both sides stressed the importance of bilateral trade, as EU is India’s largest trading partner, while India is the E.U.’s ninth biggest trading partner. Ahead of the summit, E.U. officials had expressed concerns about a “protectionist” tone to Mr. Modi’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” slogan, but in the talks on Wednesday, the Prime Minister conveyed that the programme was aimed at “integrating domestic production in India to global supply chains,” said MEA Secretary (West) Vikas Swarup, while briefing the media.
According to diplomats, the high level dialogue on trade and investment now launched is a key takeaway of the E.U.-India summit, which was last held in 2017, and also failed to make headway on FTA negotiations that began in 2007, but stopped in 2013.
“We have been at it too long. It is time, especially with the COVID recession staring at all and an aggressive China, to leverage each other’s strengths and push better economics between India and the EU,” said former Indian Ambassador to Brussels, Manjeev Singh Puri.
“Prime Minister’s statement that Atmanirbhar Bharat would be open to the world should be music to the ears of European companies,” he added.