The ball remains on the Indian side of court on BTIA

The European Union remains committed to start talks on Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement with India, Cecilia Malmstrom , Trade Commissioner, EU, told Sriram Lakshman in an e-mail interview. The EU is also ready to conclude a balanced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the Obama administration. Excerpts:

India’s Commerce Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, recently told Parliament that she is awaiting confirmation from the EU that BTIA negotiations can proceed …

I replied to Minister Sitharaman’s letter on May 4, 2016, and my reply is publicly available together with all my correspondence.

In her letter, Minister Sitharaman reiterated India’s request to resume negotiations without preconditions. I reassured her that the EU remains committed to resuming negotiations for an ambitious and broad agreement. But before we are ready to take this step, we need to see meaningful progress on our respective key outstanding issues so as to ensure that a resumption of negotiations has a realistic prospect to lead to their successful conclusion. I believe we owe this to our constituencies, both in the EU and in India, in order to avoid false expectations nine years after the start of the negotiations.

As I wrote to Miinister Sitharaman, resuming negotiations without any prior agreement on how to move forward on the key outstanding issues would only postpone a problem, the resolution of which might eventually jeopardise the whole negotiating process. I would say that the ball remains on the Indian side of the court.

I remain open to engaging and am convinced that once India is ready we will be able to advance at a good pace. Therefore, I look forward to my next exchange with Minister Sitharaman.

Is the EU willing to make an offer that will incorporate India’s desire for a greater ease of movement of skilled workers across borders?

The EU has consistently acknowledged the importance that India attaches to services provided in the EU by Indian skilled professionals. President Juncker himself confirmed, at the recent EU-India Summit, the readiness of the EU to explore flexibilities on key Indian demands provided we see willingness on the Indian side to make progress on the EU demands as well.

Can you confirm that a phase-wise reduction or elimination of tariffs (that is, long transitional periods) in the automobile and wines/spirits sectors as well as asymmetric reductions will still be acceptable to the EU?

I can confirm that the EU remains ready to explore with India the precise modalities for the liberalization of duties in these sectors, including asymmetrical liberalization in favour of India, provided of course that the overall balance of the negotiations is right.

Would the EU consider a “BTIA Light”?

The EU negotiators have to respect the mandate that the EU Member States have given to the European Commission. It was re-confirmed in the “Council Conclusions on the EU's trade and investment policy” of November 2015. In these documents, EU Member States support the conclusion of ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial bilateral trade and investment agreements and call on the Commission to work to advance negotiations in Asia amongst other regions.

Can the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) still be finalized before Barack Obama's term is over? Do you foresee similar opposition from the public to the trade deal with India if and when it progresses?

The EU is ready, willing and able to conclude a balanced and high-standard TTIP with the Obama administration. We are working at full speed to get these negotiations as far as possible in 2016. However, much work remains to be done to reach a balanced and ambitious deal. For TTIP to be successful, substance must trump speed.

We welcome the public debate in Europe on trade agreements, be it on TTIP or on the agreement with India. But we would like that debate to be fact-based. We think it is important to ensure all stakeholders/citizens understand what is being negotiated and the potential benefits. This is why we have significantly increased the transparency of our negotiations (i.e. by making public all the EU proposals among other provisions) and that we have multiplied our outreach efforts throughout all EU Member States.

The Indian government has voiced concerns over recent changes to EU trademark law that allow the seizing of goods in transit to third countries via the EU, if their branding resembles trademark protected goods in the EU… It is also concerned that the new law could be used to confiscate generic drugs en route to Latin America and Africa…

The EU has clarified this issue to the Indian authorities on many occasions. In this respect, I can only regret that the Indian authorities have so far refused to enter into an annual dialogue with the EU on Intellectual Property Rights, as requested again at the EU-India Summit of this year. This dialogue would enable both parties to address their issues of concern in a constructive spirit and avoid misunderstandings.

The new EU Trademark law does not impede access by patients – and in particular those from developing and least-developed countries - to legitimately traded medicines transiting through the EU territory. According to EU law, the proprietor of a trade mark would only be entitled to stop goods that bear a trade mark which is identical to the European Union trade mark: this is to say, goods could be stopped only if they infringe existing trade mark laws, which is a fraudulent activity sanctioned by all IPR systems in the world, including in India. The new provisions do not apply to confusingly similar trademarks or other IPR such as patents.

All in all, the EU is fully committed to all the efforts made to facilitate access to medicines for countries in need. The regulation reminds customs authorities of the need to have the Doha Declaration in mind when dealing with “generic” medicines in transit.

We welcome the public debate in Europe on trade agreements, be it on TTIP or on the agreement with India