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NEW DELHI: India and European Union (EU) on Saturday rolled out a blueprint for scaling up and broad basing their strategic partnership to meet the challenges of a post-covid-19 world, not only in established areas like trade and investment, but also in newer areas like technology and the Indo-Pacific region.

Leaders and officials of both sides hailed the first India-EU Leaders’ meeting – attended by all 27 heads of EU countries and Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- on Saturday as “opening a new chapter in relations." The EU has met with only US president Joe Biden in this format before – in March this year. It comes against the backdrop of the unpredictable rise of China, doubts bring raised about globalization and multilateralism as well as growing nationalistic and protectionist tendencies in the world.

“The European Union is an important partner for India. Our common values such as democracy, rule-of-law and fundamental freedoms makes us natural partners to meet the shared challenges in an increasingly multipolar world," said Vikas Swaroop, Secretary West in the Indian foreign ministry. “At the same time, the political logic of a stronger India and the EU is complemented by compelling economic rationale. The EU was our largest trading partner in goods 2019-20, ahead of China and the US, with total trade close to $ 90 billion," he told reporters after the summit.

Technology including collaboration in 5G, super computing and Artificial Intelligence, data privacy, partnership in vaccines, reform of multilateral institutions, climate change and sustainability besides the Indo-Pacific were among the subjects taken up for discussion.

The key take away from the summit was the revival of trade talks between India and the EU. Stalled after 16 rounds six years after starting talks in 2007, the two sides on Saturday agreed to “enhance our trade and investment relationship to realise its untapped potential thus contributing to inclusive and sustainable economic growth and recovery from the covid-9 pandemic."

“We agreed to resume negotiations for a balanced, ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade agreement which would respond to the current challenges," a joint statement said.

“We agreed that in order to create the required positive dynamic for negotiations, it is imperative to find solutions to long-standing market access issues. We also agreed to the launch of negotiations on a stand-alone investment protection agreement. We also agreed to start negotiations on a separate agreement on geographical indications which could be concluded separately or integrated into the trade agreement, depending on the pace of negotiations," the joint statement said.

According to Swaroop, “Negotiations on both the Trade and Investment Agreements will be pursued on parallel tracks with an intention to achieve early conclusion of both of them." The High-Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment set up after the last India-EU summit in 2020 and headed by Trade Minister Piyush Goyal on the Indian side and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis on the EU side would set timelines for the start and completion of the pacts, he said.

The two sides also set up two working groups – one on resilient supply chains and the second to “intensify regulatory cooperation on goods and services" the statement said.

At the multilateral level, India and the EU pledged to strengthen coordination on issues of global economic governance – at the World Trade Organisation and the G20. Senior officials of the two sides will start a dialogue to deepen cooperation on WTO issues, under the supervision of Goyal and Dombrovskis.

Given the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic raging through India and some European countries suffering a third wave, discussions on the pandemic also took place, officials said.

During the summit, Prime Minister Modi urged the EU to join an initiative to temporarily waive patent protections for covid-19 vaccines which would make available supplies for poorer nations. The proposal was put forth by India and South Africa last year in October and backed by the US and France this week. But there is no unanimous view among the 27 member bloc.

According to the joint statement, India and the EU have committed to “work together to better prepare for and respond to global health emergencies." This included resilient medical supply chains, vaccines and the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and on the application of international good manufacturing standards to ensure high quality and safety of products.

The two sides also agreed to advance global health but strengthening the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) preparedness and response to health emergencies and also by reforming the WHO, the joint statement said. “The EU invited India to work towards an international treaty on pandemics within the framework of the WHO," it said.

Climate change and increasing funding in India of green and sustainable means of transport by the European Investment Bank were also covered in the talks as were the greening of the railways, ports and shipping sectors, and the decarbonisation of civil aviation.


A second major takeaway from the Leaders’ Summit on Saturday was the Connectivity Partnership “that upholds international law, conforms with international norms and affirms the shared values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for international commitments," the joint statement said.

In what may be seen as a swipe at China for its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative that is seen as plunging countries into debt traps and being unmindful of the environmental impact of infrastructure projects, the joint statement said: “Our Partnership will promote a transparent, viable, inclusive, sustainable, comprehensive, and rules-based connectivity."

“It is based on principles of social, economic, fiscal, climate and environmental sustainability and a level playing field for economic operators," it said.

“We aim at enhancing and widening cooperation between us through projects, including with third countries and regions, notably in Africa, Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific, in order to build digital, energy, transport and people-to-people connectivity," it added.

“We welcomed the close cooperation on global digital standards and network security and agreed to enhance it further including in relation to 5G technology and beyond 5G," the joint statement said.

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