Watershed Moment: Enhanced trade, connectivity to power India-EU ties in a new era

In a set of defining steps that’s going to scale-up India-EU ties to a new stratosphere, the two strategic partners and the world’s largest democracies have decided to resume the long-dragging negotiations for trade and investment deals and unveiled a landmark connectivity partnership that involves partnering in joint infrastructure projects in third countries.

“Taking forward the commitment to transform India-EU relationship for global good, I had a virtual interaction with all leaders of EU Member States and Presidents for India-EU Leaders’ Meeting,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his meeting with the leaders of EU countries on May 8.  This was the first-ever India-EU summit meeting that was held in 27+1 format.

“Our stronger partnership is essential for achieving peace and prosperity for our peoples. We welcomed the resumption of negotiations for Trade and Investment Agreements, as well as our new Connectivity Partnership,” tweeted Mr Modi.

“The EU-India Leaders Meeting is a moment of deep geopolitical significance. This Summit is an opportunity to promote trade and investment ties between the two largest democratic areas in the world, thus strengthening the autonomy of an EU open to the world,”  said Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

A series of special gestures marked the first-ever  India-EU summit in 27+1 format. The Portuguese city of Porto was lit up in the colours of the Indian flag and the Portuguese prime minister, in the presence of all EU leaders, proudly referred to his status as an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India).  Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo greeted PM Modi with the Gujarati greeting Khem Cho!


“We agreed that we will resume the Free Trade Agreement negotiations!,” tweeted Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.   “In parallel, we will launch negotiations on an EU-India investment protection agreement & on Geographic Indications,” said a jubilant Ms Leyen.


The two sides are aiming at “balanced, comprehensive and mutually beneficial” trade and investment agreements, Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West) in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters after the summit.

“We agreed to resume negotiations for a balanced, ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade agreement which would respond to the current challenges,” said the joint statement issued after the first India-EU summit in 27+1 format. “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,” said the statement.

Only Connect

Another major highlight of the summit was the launch of the India-EU Connectivity Partnership, which will entail India and the EU working on joint projects in Africa, central Asia and the Indo-Pacific. In a separate vision statement, India and the EU agree to “build a sustainable and comprehensive Connectivity Partnership,” which will be animated by transparency, rule of law, fiscal and environmental transparency.

“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,” said the joint statement.

Indo-Pacific Convergence

The deepening strategic partnership between India and the EU, the world’s leading democratic torchbearers which boast combined GDP of around $23 trillion, was reflected in the convergence on the Indo-Pacific. In this context, the two sides underscored their commitment to “a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific space, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, democracy, and rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with international law, including (UNCLOS).” India welcomed the EU’s Strategy for cooperation with the Indo-Pacific and the EU expressed appreciation for India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, which paves the way for enhancing international coordination and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

In another important takeaway, expressing solidarity with India, which is reeling under a severe second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, in respond to PM Modi’s request, the EU leaders agreed to shore up India’s capacity for production of anti-Covid vaccines. The EU agreed to keep an open mind a TRIPs waiver for vaccines. “We will be watching the evolving EU position on this issue,” said Vikas Swarup, India’s seniormost diplomat dealing with Europe.

“EU and India stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against COVID19. We are delivering equipment to the people of India and working to boost vaccine production,” said Charles Michel, president of the European Council.  “The EU is leading the global effort to vaccinate. For this, all export restrictions should be lifted. We urge all countries to do this. Then, efforts must continue to increase production capacity. And we are ready to discuss other proposals on how to support vaccine access,” said Ms Ursula Von der Lyen.

The May 8 summit has imparted a new movement and direction to scaling up India-EU partnership to ever greater heights, said Mr Swarup.

EU Diplomats Upbeat

The Leaders’ summit evoked much enthusiasm from the EU delegation and ambassadors from EU countries in the capital Delhi.

“Very successful Leader’s meeting today.  European Union stands in solidarity with India against Covid. A strengthened strategic partnership: foreign/security policy, multilateralism, Indo-Pacific, connectivity, climate change, digital, broad trade & investments agenda. Natural partners!” tweeted EU’s Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto.

“The full alignment of priorities and substantial action-driven approach stands out. The relationship has moved from statements to actions during the last two summits,” Denmark’s Ambassador to India Freddy Svane told India Writes Network.   “The summit resulted in major outcomes on trade and connectivity. However, most important result is the mainstreaming of the strategic interests based on shared values,” said the Danish ambassador.

Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.