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Trade minister Anand Sharma had earlier indicated that both sides may conclude negotiations at the Brussels meeting. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
Trade minister Anand Sharma had earlier indicated that both sides may conclude negotiations at the Brussels meeting. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

India, EU fail to sort out differences on free trade agreement

Both sides reiterated their positions and scheduled another ministerial meeting in June to review progress in talks

New Delhi: India and the European Union failed to sort out their differences on a free-trade agreement (FTA) between the two sides in a meeting between trade minister Anand Sharma and EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht in Brussels on Monday.

Both sides reiterated their already stated positions, emphasized the need for demonstrating pragmatism and scheduled another ministerial meeting in June to review progress in talks.

Speaking at the Mint Luxury Conference last month, Sharma had indicated that both sides may conclude negotiations at the Brussels meeting. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during a recent visit to Germany, said in a statement that both sides had agreed on the importance of an early conclusion to a balanced India-EU broad-based trade and investment agreement.

However, various groups have built up pressure against a trade deal that they regard as discriminatory. These include industry lobbies such as the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd, which runs dairy products producer Amul, and healthcare activists.

In a rare intervention, the Parliamentary standing committee on commerce headed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shanta Kumar on Thursday warned the government against signing an accord that hasn’t been examined by its members.

“The candid discussion between the leaders covered all the elements of the package," the Indian commerce ministry said in a release on Tuesday. “A clear understanding was reached that a fine balance needs to be arrived at for meaningful expectations of market access on both the sides." While Sharma underscored the importance of getting a good package on services, including declared interests in information technology and movement of Indian professionals and the need to declare India a data secure country, the EU conveyed its strong interest in financial services, automobile sector, wines and spirits and cheese.

Sharma also highlighted issues of market access for agricultural products, pharmaceuticals and textiles, maintaining that India cannot go beyond the parameters of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement and Indian laws on intellectual property in the ongoing negotiations. The EU, on its part, sought assurances on the facilitation of the registration of Geographical Indicators.

Arpita Mukherjee, a professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, said if one drags negotiations for a long time, it does not gain anything as negotiators and priorities change. India is seeking renegotiation of tariff levels such as in automobiles and dairy products which were closed two years ago, because it may not be gaining what it wished for in services negotiations, Mukherjee said.

Talks on the bilateral trade and investment agreement started in 2007. The two sides have missed at least four deadlines to complete the negotiations.

The long-running negotiations between India and the European Union on a free trade agreement (FTA) gained fresh momentum from the ministerial-level talks held in Brussels on Monday, with the two sides airing optimism about making further progress in the coming months.

After the talks, a spokesperson for European Commission said the discussions between Sharma and Gucht “provided a renewed momentum to bring the negotiations forward", PTI reported from Brussels.

Sharma and Gucht had a “positive meeting", the spokesman said in a brief statement. “We look forward to renewed progress in the coming months," he said.

PTI contributed to this story.

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