British industry pitches for restart of India-European Union trade talks

Hindu Business Line | 16 Oct 2014

British industry pitches for restart of India-European Union trade talks

KR Srivats

‘Good moment’ to re-energise talks, says Confederation of British Industry chief

India and the European Union (EU) should restart trade talks and take steps to conclude the much-awaited free trade agreement (FTA), said Michael Rake, President of the Confederation of British Industry.

“This will be a symbol of openness and a big signal that India really wants to operate at the global level. We need to build on the work already done”, Rake told BusinessLine in an interview here.

The Confederation of British Industry is UK’s premier business lobbying organisation, providing voice to employers at the national and international levels.

Rake said this could be a “good moment” to re-energise trade talks with a new Indian Government already in office and a new Commission (European) expected at Brussels from November 1.

The proposed India-EU bilateral trade and investment agreement (BTIA) is far from concluded, despite several rounds of negotiations that began in 2007.

Rake, who is Chairman of BT Group Plc, is in India for a India-UK business meeting besides opening of a new BT building at commercial business hub in Gurgaon, Haryana.

Global trade

He said global trade was expected to slow down and that made it even more important to re-energise the India-EU trade talks and conclude it at the earliest.

“Whatever be the problems, India needs to recognise that EU has nearly half a billion wealthy consumers. There is a large middle class out there (EU)”, he said.

The EU-28 is currently India’s largest trading partner, accounting for about 15 per cent of total trade in goods and services. “British industry is very keen on the India-EU FTA. Bilateral treaties are important especially after the WTO Doha round collapse. We should get to the level best of treaty we can. It is better to have some sort of a treaty than having none”,” he said.

Strained relations

Rake’s remarks are significant as they come at a time when the India-EU bilateral commercial relationship is strained due to a series of tax disputes involving EU companies as also the recent EU ban on import of mangoes from India. During his current visit, Rake also met Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. The British business community is confident that the new Modi-led Government would deliver on its promise of being a business-friendly dispensation, Rake said, adding that there are already some signs of that. However, clarity in taxation policy is important and that is already beginning to emerge, he added.

Visa restrictions

British business is also very keen that visa restrictions (at UK’s end) be eased so that more skilled Indians can move to the UK.

“We need more high-level engineers and other skilled people that India produces to move to UK. We (in UK) still have the problem of net migration policy, which means shortage of visas for skilled people. Tackling this issue will be healthy for UK-India relations,” Rake said, adding that this had nothing to do with EU’s free movement of labour, but only to do with the UK.