London: Britain’s international development minister Gareth Thomas called for concluding the trade negotiations between the EU and India this year itself.
Thomas told a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday that European and Indian negotiators must not let the discussions get “stuck in the weeds” as he highlighted the importance of securing a deal that brings trade and development benefits to both regions.
Progress in the discussions has been slow so far as both sides look to agree to a deal that would be pro-development as well as pro-trade, a press release here said.
Current restrictions mean that skilled professionals in certain sectors, such as law from Europe cannot practice in India, while Indian IT experts, for example, often face barriers within the EU.
The EU-India free trade agreement would also see a reduction in export tariffs. “Scotch whisky currently faces high tariffs and we would like to see it reduced or eliminated, unlocking a large new market for this popular premium product,” the statement said quoting him.
The EU is India’s most economically important trading partner with 18.7% of the country’s exports coming to the 27-nation economic bloc. Of those exports, 17.7% come to Britain.
Thomas said, “despite the economic success India has enjoyed over the past decade, it is important to remember that more than 450 Indians are living on less than $1.25 per day -- as many as in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
“The benefits of a EU-India trade deal would be felt by businesses on both sides and this in turn will benefit millions whose employment relies on import and export trade.
“The negotiations are progressing very slowly and I would urge all those round the table to do everything in their power to ensure that discussion in 2010 do not get stuck in the weeds as we pursue a positive outcome. Trade with India is worth over €55 billion to the EU and almost one-fifth of that comes to Britain,” said the British minister Thomas.
In lieu of a final agreement on the Doha round, it is important to have an agreement in place that protects jobs by creating more opportunities for increased trade, Thomas said, adding “one key topic for discussion will be tariffs and pharmaceutical patents.”
India is the world’s largest exporter of generic drugs to the developing world. The EU is keen to see a deal that would see India introduces appropriate levels of intellectual property protection while at the same time ensures access to lifesaving drugs for diseases like HIV for the third world.
Negotiations for this agreement began in June 2007 and there have been eight rounds so far. Progress has been tentative and was delayed further by elections in India last year.