New Delhi: India and the European Union (EU) will engage in further negotiations to resolve contentious issues such as intellectual property rights (IPRs), labour and environment and government procurement for the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) that the two sides have been negotiating since 2007.
Briefing the media after the conclusion of the ninth round of talks in Brussels last week, Daniele Smadja, EU’s ambassador to India, told reporters on Monday that both sides have made progress in the latest round of talks. Without disclosing the details of the areas in which the talks have advanced, Smadja said: “The progress achieved last week will allow us to be on track to fulfil the deadline set by the two sides.”
Both sides have resolved to conclude negotiations before the next India-Europe summit in October this year.
In December last year, commerce ministry additional secretary P.K. Chaudhary, who heads the Indian negotiating team, had told Mint that the ninth round of negotiations in March (later moved to April) may be the final one.
“I do not think we will need any full round of discussions after the March round,” he had said. “Pointed discussion may be needed on specific sectors through small groups of negotiators.”
Smadja said European director general David O’Sullivan will visit India to meet his counterpart, commerce secretary Rahul Khullar. In May and June, the technical negotiators from both sides will have more rounds of inter-sessional meetings to discuss pending issues. In July, Union commerce minister Anand Sharma will meet his EU counterpart, trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, to review the progress. “After the summer, chief negotiators from both sides will meet for the next round of negotiation,” Smadja said.
However, Smadja refused to say how many more rounds of negotiations may be required to seal the deal.
On IPR issues, Smadja said that from the beginning of the negotiations it was clear that any agreement needed to be TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) plus.
Allaying fears that the EU’s stand on IPR will impact the ability of Indian drug makers to produce generic drugs, Smadja said: “There will be no limit on India’s capacity to produce and export life-saving medicines under the agreement.”
Vikas Ahuja of the Delhi Network of Positive People, a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS in India, said in a statement on Friday that the EU’s demands for TRIPS-plus IPR “would lead to legislative and policy changes in India that will undermine access to affordable medicines not just in India, but across the developing world.”
On contentious issues such as labour and environment, which India is opposed to, Smadja said they were discussed by the chief negotiators from both sides. “All I can say is India took note of the explanation provided by us,” she said.
“My personal view is if we are serious about the agreement, we have to be serious on all sensitivities of both sides. Otherwise, an agreement will not be possible. We should not reject out of hand any issue,” she added.
On the long-pending issue of Indian drugs in transit being seized at European ports, Smadja said the EU is in the process of changing its regulations to resolve the issue.