Brussels: EU and Indian leaders will seek to push forward plans for a free trade zone, at a summit in New Delhi on Friday, and further boost a burgeoning relationship between the regional powers.
Also high on the agenda when European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders will be the problems in neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The 8th EU-India summit comes at a “symbolic time” according to an EU spokesman in Brussels, referring to the 60 years since Indian independence from Britain, 50 years since the EU’s founding Rome Treaty and 45 years since the start of bilateral diplomatic relations.
EU-India trade has come a long way since those political landmarks, and is currently running at one billion euros ($1.5 billion) a week.
European Commission delegation chief Daniele Smadja told a news conference in Delhi on Monday that it was seeking “fast” agreement on the free trade deal.
“We are negotiating a free trade agreement and negotiations are going very well. We hope during this summit to bring impetus to these negotiations,” added Portuguese ambassador Luis Filipe Castro Mendes.
EU foreign ministers gave the green light in April for the talks to start with India. But neither side was predicting when an agreement will be struck.
An Official at India’s Brussels embassy echoed that bilateral relations were strong “but have not reached their full potential”.
“We’d like a trade deal at this summit, or the next one, as soon as it is possible,” he told AFP on Tuesday.
The EU is already India’s largest trading partner, and a major source of investment. Last year the 27 EU nations invested €1.6 billion in India.
The south Asian giant’s 1.1 billion strong population and fast-growing middle class represent a huge market for EU companies.
The European Union is increasingly looking towards the massive growth potential of Asian markets.
European leaders will use meetings this week in Beijing, including an EU-China summit on Wednesday, to pile fresh pressure on Chinese authorities over the Asian economic giant’s booming exports and state-controlled exchange rate.
At the Delhi summit the EU and Indian leaders will also discuss climate change and the environment, airing their views ahead of December’s conference in Bali aimed at forging a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol.
India has so far refused to commit to emissions targets, saying its priority is to pull its huge population out of poverty.
The two sides are also expected to announce the renewal of a science and technology cooperation agreement and move towards coordinated research projects.
An EU official said that the regional issues of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar would also be discussed along with non-proliferation and counter-terrorism.
New Delhi has reacted cautiously to the developments in its western neighbour and nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, offering condolences for loss of life in suicide bombings and expressing mere “regret” earlier this month at Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency measures.
The official summit will be preceded in New Delhi on Thursday by an EU-India business summit attended by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and Indian trade and industry minister Kamal Nath.