By Shweta Aggarwal
India and the 27-nation European Union are set to fast-track negotiations for an early conclusion of FTA and will be focusing on expediting implementation of the connectivity partnership in Africa, Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific, said ambassadors of the EU countries.
In an online discussion organized by India Writes Network and India and The World, prestigious publications focused on international affairs, EU’s Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto underlined that one of the most significant outcomes of the May 8 India-EU summit was the joint decision to resume negotiations for a mutually beneficial Free Trade Agreement. In an important step, the EU has finally agreed to India’s proposal for holding negotiations for FTA and another agreement on geographical indications. This basket of three economic-related pacts, which were agreed upon at the first-ever India-EU summit held in 27+1 format on May 8, has the potential to scale up India-EU economic partnership to the next level.
“The European Union is one of the largest trade and investment partners of India. At the meeting, we agreed on a broad and comprehensive economic agenda so that we can fully unleash the potential of this economic partnership,” said the EU envoy, days after the transformational India-EU summit which ushered in a new 2.0 phase in India-EU partnership.
“At the same time, we want to work together with India in international fora in order to shape the global agenda such as WTO reform, and work together within the G20 framework.”
The webinar, entitled “India-EU 2.0: New Synergies, New Horizons,” featured eminent speakers including the EU ambassador, Italy’s Ambassador to India Vincenzo de Luca, Portuguese Ambassador to India Carlos Pereira Marques and Denmark’s Ambassador to India Freddy Svane. Sandeep Chakravorty, Joint Secretary (Europe West) in India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Romana Vlahutin, EU’s Ambassador for Connectivity also spoke at the online conference, which was moderated by Manish Chand, CEO, India Writes Network.
“The first 27+1 summit has raised the bar and set new benchmarks for the India-EU economic strategic and economic partnership. The real challenge lies in time-bound implementation of key outcomes as this can alone can fructify benefits of India-EU partnership for 1.8 people living in the two regions,” said Mr Chand, also President, Centre for Global India Insights (CGII), a think tank focused on global affairs.
On possibilities of early start of FTA negotiations, India has also struck an upbeat note. “The challenge will be to keep up the momentum to start the negotiations by preparing a scoping paper and resolving complex issues as soon as possible. If negotiators don’t do it successfully, they will be belying the faith the leaders have reposed in them,” said Sandeep Chakravorty.
“We hope to resolve all issues as soon as possible. These are very demanding and complex negotiations,” said the Portuguese Ambassador. Underlining the pivotal role of Portugal, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, in mobilising consensus on FTA, the Portuguese ambassador provided the audience a peek into “diplomatic work behind the scenes,” which included telephonic conversations between the prime ministers of India and Portugal and meetings between foreign ministers of the two countries.
“There was a great effort from both sides. Given the Portuguese presidency of the EU, we tried to help as much as possible,” he said.
Connectivity: Alternative to BRI
The webinar was held to review key outcomes of the first-ever meeting between Prime Minster Narendra Modi and the leaders of 27 nations and map the way ahead for the mutually empowering partnership between India and the EU. Enhancing India-EU cooperation in connectivity and in the Indo-Pacific, with a view to constraining China’s ambitions figured prominently in discussions.
Looking ahead, the India-EU connectivity partnership, which was announced at the summit, will acquire greater momentum, said EU’s Ambassador for Connectivity Romana Vlahutin. Elaborating India-EU plans for collaborating in building next-generation infrastructure, Ms Vlahutin said that the connectivity projects will involve partnering with private capital and private investors in a big way. In a veiled critique of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects which have been accused of predatory practices, Ms Vlahutin said: “We want to develop and promote projects which do not push recipient countries in debt and benefit the people.” She also indicated possibilities of triangular India-EU-Japan partnership in infrastructure projects in Africa.
The China challenge also figured in discussions on the Indo-Pacific at the Leaders’ Meeting. Mr Chakravorty rejected any plan for China containment, clarifying that the India-EU partnership in the Indo-Pacific is “not against any country.” “We will like the Indo-Pacific to be inclusive and multipolar, and based on the centrality of EU,” he said.
“We welcome a multipolar world and we believe that EU is one of the major poles in the world, and so is India, and the multipolar Asia is needed or important for a multipolar world,” said Mr Chakravorty
Going forward, green and digital transition are key priorities shared by both India and European Union, which will see progress and momentum, said Mr Astuto.
Alluding to Italy’s presidency of G20, the Italian ambassador said that the three pillars of G20 agenda of people, planet and prosperity will complement the larger India-EU partnership. “When we talk about people, we talk about the health challenges coming from the pandemic and the G20 will be focused on tackling this crisis. The global health summit will be held soon which will discuss making proposals for handling the crisis,” he said.
“This process started in Porto needs to be further supported and we need more awareness by the business community, civil society, as well as the dialogue between the parliaments of member states, European Parliament and the Indian Parliament, the Indian Parliament. This is a process that should be inclusive of all the actors. Porto really has been a starting point, a very important new starting point in a strategic partnership between the European Union and India,” said the Italian envoy.
Denmark’s Ambassador to India Freddy Svane focused on enhanced collaboration between India and the EU in promoting green development and greening of the economy. “India is in a phase where India has to develop. The EU-India summit is setting up the right framework for this continued high-level dialogue on climate change and energy. We have reached a very important milestone in so far as “we are fully aligned as to priorities and basic principles.”
“Our experience is that green growth is not just about political statements, it’s also a better way to create new and permanent jobs. In this context, the summit also delivered and I sincerely hope that we’ll see a lot of progress in the coming years,” said the Danish envoy.
(Simran Walia contributed inputs for this article)
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