India, EU Agree to Resume FTA Talks After 8 Years

India and the European Union have agreed to resume discussions about a free trade agreement, eight years after the talks got stalled, the two sides announced on Saturday, along with kick-starting negotiations for agreements on investment protection and geographical indications.

Decisions in this regard were taken at a summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 27-member EU, which was held virtually due to Covid-19 and attended by leaders of all members of the trading bloc. Prime Minister Modi also urged the European leaders to support India and South Africa’s proposal at the World Trade Organization for waiver of patents to expedite production of Covid-19 vaccines.

India and the EU decided to restart talks about a balanced, ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade agreement, Vikas Swarup, secretary (West), ministry of external affairs, told media persons. He said the decision to resume FTA talks was the biggest achievement from the summit. FTA talks, which began in 2007, have been deadlocked since 2013 over issues including tariffs, market access and data security status.

“India’s interests lie in greater market access in Europe for our goods and services, skilled manpower,” commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said after the summit. “Countries are looking for trusted trading partners and our track record, I hope, gives confidence to our European friends that India will be your most natural and reliable ally, partner and friends.”

With the cost of production high in Europe but competitive and reasonable in India, it gives European business great opportunity to produce in India. We can create a win-win partnership," Goyal said.

At the summit, India and the EU decided to support universal, safe, equitable and affordable access to Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments, and the strengthening of health systems, while acknowledging the key role of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator in this regard.

All EU leaders at the summit individually thanked India for the medical supplies last year when they were battling a surge in Covid-19 cases. They expressed solidarity with Indian citizens and committed to provide whatever support they can to help India overcome the deadly second wave of the pandemic. The PM appreciated the EU’s and its individual member states’ quick support and assistance to fight the pandemic.

The two sides agreed to cooperate on resilient medical supply chains, vaccines and active pharmaceutical ingredients, as well as the application of international good manufacturing standards to ensure high quality and safety of products.

While Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, the host of the summit, proudly referred to his status as an Overseas Citizen of India, the Belgian PM, Alexander De Croo, greeted his Indian counterpart in Gujarati, saying "Kem Chho".

French President, Emmanuel Macron, said India does not need to listen to lectures from anyone about vaccine supplies. "India has exported a lot for humanity to many countries. We know what situation India is in," he said.

Spanish PM, Pedro Sanchez, on his part, warmly recalled India’s assistance last year when his country was going through its worst phase of the pandemic.

In order to give a fresh push to the FTA talks, India and the EU agreed that it is imperative to find solutions to long-standing market access issues. They also decided to start negotiations on a separate agreement on geographical indications, which could be concluded separately or integrated into the trade agreement, depending on the pace of negotiations.

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