New Delhi: The European Union trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said on Thursday that the EU wants to close the ongoing negotiations for a free trade agreement with India before a summit between the two in October. However, he stressed that government procurement and social issues like child labour should be part of the agreement, which India has been strongly opposing.
“Both (India’s trade minister Anand) Sharma and I share the view that the deal should be done by the next summit meeting between the EU and India in October. This will mean that we will have to speed up the negotiation. If it is necessary we will have a meeting at the ministerial level to hammer out any remaining problems,” De Gucht said after meeting Sharma on Thursday. De Gucht is on his first visit to India after taking over office on 12 February.
De Gucht said the demand for greater market access by European companies, apart from public procurement and services are the issues pending resolution. “These issues have to be addressed more thoroughly,” he said.
The Indian commerce ministry said in a release that India had raised the issue of asymmetry of tariff liberalization, given the differing levels of development between the two sides.
The statement also said that the EU had asked India to expand its offer list by including its “pressing requirements”. An EU official who spoke under condition of anonymity told Mint that his side wants India to exclude items like liquor and spirits, textiles and chemicals from the so-called negative list where India would not carry out any tariff reduction. “We are ready to offer 5% more tariff liberalisation than India, provided India makes tariff cuts in such items of our interest,” the official said.
On social issues such as child labour and human rights, De Gucht said: “The European parliament will not agree to a deal that remains silent to these issues.”
However, he said he does not see these issues as “deal breakers”.
De Gucht said that he wants the issues to be addressed in a positive manner not in a confrontational manner under the FTA. “We can agree on the language with respect to this,” he said.
To the point that India has been clear from the beginning that government procurement should not be part of FTA negotiations, De Gucht said: “That is not my understanding. Our Indian counterpart has been saying to us that you need to distinguish between federal and state level. This is still an open issue.”
The commerce ministry said in its statement that Sharma asked for fast-tracking negotiations on the services agreement and protecting India’s biodiversity and traditional knowledge.