EU, India Leaders Call for "Timely Relaunch" of Trade Talks

12 October 2017

Leaders from the EU and India are pushing to see the “timely relaunch” of their long-running trade talks, reaffirming their continued interest in advancing the negotiations following a summit held in New Delhi last week.

The 6 October summit also touched upon a host of policy issues, including cooperation on climate change, energy, innovation, and security, culminating in a list of 53 priorities going forward, along with a series of joint statements on specific policy areas.

“The leaders committed to work in a result-oriented and mutually beneficial manner to further strengthen the India-EU Strategic Partnership by deepening their trade cooperation, enhancing investment flows in both directions, and broadening dialogue and engagement on global and regional issues, including climate change, as well as migration and the refugee crisis, and resolved to further strengthen their bilateral and multilateral cooperation in these areas,” they said afterward.

Juncker: chief negotiators meeting on FTA

One of the major questions heading into the high-level meeting was what announcements, if any, would be made about the future of the two sides’ negotiations for a free trade agreement.

Those talks kicked off a decade ago, but have since advanced in fits and starts, with disagreements emerging on issues such as intellectual property protections, the movement of workers for services trade, and the protection of personal data. Another issue has been the expiry for several bilateral investment treaties between some EU member states and India.

Negotiators last met formally in November 2013, despite repeated political calls in the years since to renew the talks.

Indeed, last week’s summit comes just months after India Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with both leaders backing the resumption of the trade negotiations. The EU is India’s largest trading partner, while the Asian economic giant ranks as the 28-nation bloc’s ninth largest trading partner. (See Bridges Weekly, 1 June 2017)

Speaking to reporters on Friday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker outlined the large scale of the existing EU-India trade relationship – along with noting the importance of those ties going forward into the upcoming “post-Brexit” landscape.

“With this in mind I believe it is time for a free trade agreement between India and the European Union. Once the circumstances are right – and only once the circumstances are right – we will resume,” the EU official said. He specifically highlighted data protection as a key issue for the European Union, given India’s role as an IT services hub.

“If India's standards of data protection are converging with those of the European Union, the European Union will be in a position to recognise the adequacy of India's rules. This is a precondition for exchanging personal data freely and securely,” said Juncker.

Furthermore, he noted that Brussels and New Delhi will be directing their chief negotiators to meet shortly to advance those efforts. He did not, however, mention a concrete date for officially rebooting the talks, or for their potential conclusion. Juncker did confirm in a separate speech to business leaders that the top trade officials from the EU and India would be meeting bilaterally this week in Marrakech, Morocco to discuss the matter.

The sentiment was reaffirmed by Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, who gave a “political observation” that trade deals serve both to boost economic prospects and also to “strengthen and defend the rules-based international order and our way of life.”

The summit’s host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also referred to the value of deepening trade and investment ties between the two sides, particularly given the significant exchanges already underway between the European and Indian economies.

The leaders’ meeting came just days ahead of a WTO “mini-ministerial” in Marrakech, Morocco, which was meant to clarify the road ahead to the global trade club’s official ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the end of the year.

The upcoming WTO ministerial was also a topic of discussion at the EU-India meet, with leaders confirming afterward “the crucial role of the rules-based multilateral trading system, and the importance of enhancing free, fair, and open trade for achieving sustainable growth and development.”

While both sides stressed the value of “concrete results” reached through collaboration with their fellow trading partners, they did not specify how the EU and India might overcome differences in approach to the various aspects of the WTO negotiations, such as domestic support for agricultural goods or whether to negotiate multilateral rules on e-commerce and investment facilitation.

Climate cooperation

Leaders also released a climate-specific joint statement, pledging to step up their work both in supporting the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change, along with backing the implementation of other climate-related efforts, such as the deal reached last year to phase down climate-warming coolants known as hydrofluorocarbons under the Montreal Protocol. (See Bridges Weekly, 20 October 2016)

The statement comes just weeks ahead of this year’s UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP), where climate negotiators are aiming to advance on developing the so-called “rulebook” for implementing the Paris climate accord, among a host of other agenda items.

The EU and India also highlighted their work on transitioning towards more sustainable energy sources, along with investment efforts being made towards boosting the deployment of renewables.

ICTSD reporting; “India-EU free trade agreement: State of play and way forward,” LEXOLOGY, 20 June 2017; “India, EU fail to fix date to relaunch trade pact talks,” THE HINDU, 9 October 2017.

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