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India, EU agree to set up high-level ministerial dialogue, no pact in sight

India, EU agree to set up high-level ministerial dialogue, no pact in sight

DPA
New Delhi/Brussels
India and the European Union agreed to set up a high-level ministerial dialogue on trade and investment at a summit on Wednesday, but did not mention any time frame for a long-stalled free trade agreement.
The discussions during the online summit were led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
A joint statement released after the summit said: “The High Level Dialogue will aim at fostering progress on the trade and investment agreements, addressing trade irritants and improving conditions for traders and investors on both sides as well as discuss supply chain linkages.”
The EU is India’s largest trading partner with two-way trade amounting to 115.6 billion dollars in 2018-19.
India and the EU began discussing a Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) in 2007 which was expected to improve market access for goods through the elimination of tariffs.
Several differences including over Indian tariffs on cars and wines and spirits and EU restrictions on Indian professionals’ access to its labour markets brought negotiations to a halt in 2013.
Trade ministers from both sides agreed to continue talks on a broad trade agreement and the setting up of the high-level dialogue was part of the process, MEA secretary Vikas Swarup said at a briefing.
“There is no time frame ... both sides agreed to meet as early as possible,” Swarup said.
The statement said the two sides “reaffirmed their commitment to work towards balanced, ambitious and mutually-beneficial trade and investment agreements, opening markets and creating a level playing field on both sides.”
Discussions at Wednesday’s summit covered a range of issues from defence cooperation to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and health care to climate change, renewable energy and human rights.
The two sides also signed a strategic partnership roadmap setting out the areas of cooperation.
Eradication of child labour and also the sticky issue of protests over a citizenship law in India were among other issues discussed.
There were widespread protests against a new citizenship law in India till the lockdown brought in by the new coronavirus cleared streets.
The controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, which was slotted for discussion in the EU parliament but deferred, has been criticized as being discriminatory towards Muslims and undermining India’s secular constitution.
The Indian government’s handling of protests has also been criticized.
India and the EU affirmed their determination as democracies to promote effective multilateralism and a rules-based multilateral order with the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at its core, the joint statement said.
The two sides plan to launch a dialogue on maritime security and enhance military and naval cooperation.
“As power dynamics shift, the EU wants to play a stronger role in Asia and across the globe,” Michel said at the briefing.

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