India-EU to renew trade talks in Brussels

India-EU to renew trade talks in Brussels

New Delhi: Indian and European Union (EU) negotiators will renew talks for a trade and investment agreement in Brussels on 12-14 September, but experts said their differences are too wide to be overcome without a political push.

The proposed deal will be India’s most ambitious trade pact because the EU is its largest trading partner. But the two sides have already missed three deadlines, the latest in April, to conclude talks that started four years ago.

Negotiations hit a stalemate in July, with the 27-nation bloc aggressively seeking additional market access.

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“We have done our bit to move forward. But if they get too greedy, it is not going to happen," said a commerce ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said India is also concerned at the deepening EU debt crisis, with eastern European nations that took loans in an appreciating Swiss franc struggling to repay western European banks.

“In the last one-and-a-half months, when we had three rounds of talks, the EU has changed its position and is asking for more," another commerce ministry official had said last month. The EU had hardened its position demanding higher levels of tariff concessions in automobiles and wine, he added. “While we are ready to provide some concessions, the EU is now demanding all sorts of concessions, which are not possible for us to meet."

Indian wine and automobile associations are opposed to significant concessions to European multinational corporations, fearing loss of market and competitiveness. Differences over services, agriculture, chemicals, intellectual property rights (IPR) and government procurement are also yet to be resolved.

It will be difficult for India to agree to the EU’s demands on automobiles, intellectual property and data exclusivity matters, said Anwarul Hoda, professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and an expert on trade matters. “India has excluded tariff concessions on automobiles in the treaties with Japan and South Korea. It will be difficult for it to give the concessions to EU," he said.

India’s chief trade negotiator and special secretary in the commerce ministry, P.K. Chaudhery, will lead the Indian delegation to Brussels. The EU side will be led by its chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero.

Gulshan Sachdeva, associate professor at the Centre for European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the deal needs political backing.

“I do not think the negotiations could be concluded before the next India-EU summit by the year-end. The deal needs a political push to conclude at least a framework agreement before the summit, after which negotiations could continue. Otherwise, it will be embarrassing for both the sides," he said. Sachdeva said an agreement on services will be more difficult to reach than goods. “Issues like competition, IPR, public procurement will take a much longer time."