New Delhi: India is looking to conclude talks on a comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union (EU) in July after an approval by a panel headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“In July, commerce minister Anand Sharma will visit Brussels and announce closure of the agreement,” a commerce ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
A flurry of activity is now expected with commerce secretary Rahul Khullar meeting the EU’s director general of trade Jean-Luc Demarty on 3 June, followed by a last round of negotiations between the two sides in the second half of June to flesh out the details of the accord.
The formal signing of the trade pact might take another six months on due process. “While EU will have to get the deal passed through their parliament, we have to get cabinet clearance on the deal,” the official said.
New deadline: Commerce secretary Rahul Khullar will meet EU’s director general of trade Jean-Luc Demarty on 3 June
Both sides have missed three deadlines, the latest in April, on the accord, talks on which started in 2007. India’s trade and economic relations committee, which Singh leads, gave its go-ahead on 29 April.
While the EU is keen to have greater market access to India, especially for a large number of farm products and in the government procurement market, India is keen on fewer restrictions on the temporary movement of professionals.
However, both sides have discussed differences on the EU’s demand to include non-trade issues such as sustainable development and child labour in the trade pact, which India is opposed to. India has also ruled out the EU’s demand for data exclusivity and the opening up of India’s government procurement market.
A trade analyst was sceptical on whether the two sides will be able to meet the latest July deadline.
“There are lots of open ends. There are issues on intellectual property rights. Questions will be asked what we have got in services,” he said, declining to be identified. “I am not confident that the deal could be completed by July this year.”
Another expert said the agreement was doable by July.
“There may not be major give and take on services,” said Arpita Mukherjee, professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. “However, EU may want regulatory certainty on issues like multi-brand retail and postal services.”
The proposed India-EU broad-based trade and investment agreement will be India’s most ambitious trade pact because the EU is its largest trading partner.
Annual trade between India and the European Union was around €84 billion (Rs 5.35 trillion today) in 2009-10. India ranks eighth on the EU’s list of major trading partners. The EU accounted for 20.2% of India’s exports and 13.3% of imports.
The agreement is being opposed by non-governmental organizations over concerns that the proposed trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights in the deal will affect India’s ability to produce and export life-saving generic drugs to developing and poor countries.
Commerce minister Sharma had said in March that data exclusivity is well beyond the provisions of the intellectual property agreement.
“India does not provide data exclusivity for pharmaceuticals and agro-chemicals, which is in the paramount interest of our generic pharmaceutical industry, as grant of data exclusivity would have considerable impact in delaying the entry into the market of cheaper generic drugs,” he had said.