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BENGALURU, NEW DELHI : Boosted by its exports touching the $400 billion-mark, India is set to relaunch talks with the European Union (EU) on a proposed free trade agreement (FTA), with their lead negotiators meeting as early as this month for preliminary talks, said two government officials aware of the development.

The lead negotiators for India, who were recently appointed, will meet EU representatives in Brussels this month-end to set a roadmap for the discussions, they said, requesting anonymity.

With both sides playing hard on several aspects of the deal, the talks fell through in 2014. This time, the preliminary round is expected to prepare the ground for ironing out the differences, and even attempt to crack an early-harvest deal before India goes to polls in 2024.

The EU’s key demands include duty concessions for automobiles, dairy products, and wines and spirits. India, meanwhile, is batting for greater market access in financial services and mobility for professionals. The EU also wants India to cover concessions extended to other FTA partner nations.

India is on a pretty strong wicket -- India’s merchandise exports grew by 42.7% in FY22 over the previous year to cross the $400 billion mark for the first time.

“Negotiators have been appointed by both India and the EU. They are meeting around the end of this month for preliminary talks, before formal talks are launched to basically get a sense of expectations from both sides," said one of the two officials. The Indian side has appointed Amit Yadav, additional secretary, department of commerce, as its lead negotiator, he added.

The India-EU FTA talks -- or the Broad-Based Trade and Investment Agreement as it is officially called -- started in 2007, but were put on hold in 2014 following differences over sensitive non-trade issues such as environment and labour standards.

“The India-EU FTA is going to be a game changer in terms of capacity of trade increase between them. The trade talks were stalled for over seven years, but thankfully, they are going to recommence now that the lead negotiators have been appointed by both Europe and India," Robert Troy, minister of state for trade promotion, Ireland, said recently in an interview.

As part of the FTA, India wants the EU to conclude agreements on investment protection and geographical indicators with the EU accounting for nearly 15% of Indian exports, which grew 59% on-year in April-January to $50.7 billion. The 27-member bloc accounts for 8.5% of India’s imports, and posted 33.3% growth during the period to $42.18 billion.

According to Troy, who recently held talks with Indian officials and ministers in New Delhi, India expressed wants to conclude the deal before the elections. “That is ambitious… India and the EU would like to see the trade negotiations complete before 2024. It is going to be challenging as these are very large economies. But there is a willingness to come to a conclusion," he said.

“We want to see a trade agreement with India and we will be playing our part through the appropriate channels of the EU and try and bring out a successful conclusion."

Queries emailed to a spokesperson for the ministry and commerce and industry on Thursday afternoon did not elicit any response.

Austrian trade commissioner Hans Joerg Hoertnagl said an FTA between India and the EU will help bring down import duties and create a level playing field for European firms. “The most important part of the FTA is to standardise norms. This will make doing business easier for both sides. Besides, the EU is looking at not only the tariffs but also the technical standards of corporations in tech systems and customs," he added.

From the Austrian perspective, a number of Indian companies such as Mahindra and ITC and several IT companies are using Vienna as their hub for European countries. “We would want more firms to set up base in Vienna as we share a very special relationship with East European countries and we also have a high degree of connectivity. So if Indian companies wish to set up their bases in Vienna, they can reach all of Europe within one hour," he added.

Last year, India and the EU had announced their decision to resume negotiations for a balanced and comprehensive trade agreement. It was also decided to launch negotiations on two other key agreements on investment protection and geographical indications.

“I think we all acknowledge that sustainability from a climate perspective will underpin any negotiation from a European perspective. We have a responsibility in that area," Troy added. Ireland is looking at gains in pharmaceuticals and whiskeys from the proposed FTA.

“One of our big areas is in terms of his export to pharmaceuticals; export would be med-tech. And I think there’s an opportunity…Ireland is renowned for quality food and the production of whiskey. We see an opportunity there," said Troy.

According to the government, merchandise imports also jumped to a record $589 billion owing to rising oil prices, while exports till March stood at $400.8 billion.

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