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India, EU can break FTA deadlock: envoy

The Hindu, India

India, EU can break FTA deadlock: envoy

By Smriti Kak Ramachandran

18 May 2015

India and the European Union could break the deadlock impeding the Free Trade Agreement when Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman travels to Paris in June to attend an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) event, European Union Ambassador in New Delhi Joao Cravinho told The Hindu.

Mr. Cravinho says though there have been no negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement with India, decision-makers in New Delhi and Brussels are keen on ending the stalemate.

“We haven’t had progress for two years, no negotiations, but there is a recognition that this stalemate has gone on far too long,” he told The Hindu. The decision-makers have concluded that it is time to sit down and create a political momentum to finalise the deal.

“Personally, I am convinced we are less far apart than we were two years ago. The world has changed; even if we have not been negotiating and what it takes in terms of political capital is perfectly affordable. We need to have major decision-makers at the ministerial level sit down for talks, and I expect that to happen within a few weeks,” he said.

India’s participation at the OECD could offer the opportunity for discussions between New Delhi and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. Both Union Minister for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman and Ms. Malmström are expected to be present in Paris in June and officials are hopeful that a dialogue could be scheduled.

Work is also under way for fleshing out the details of the India-EU Summit scheduled for later this year. “We are working on a rich agenda, which will justify the summit.”

Mr. Cravinho said the India-EU Summit to be held later this year would have as its broad themes how Europe could support India’s transformational and development agenda, how India could support the challenges that Europe faced, and how India and Europe could work together on issues of global governance.

“India and the EU are major players in global governance, and coming together, finding a platform on which both can work, will mean not only contribution to each other but also towards global peace. The recognition of that will be part of the summit outcomes,” he said.

He said the Modi government had set an “ambitious transformational agenda,” and the EU countries, keen on partnering India in the implementation of schemes such as Smart City, Swachh Bharat and “Make in India”, were looking for appropriate responses.

Citing the example of the Ganga cleaning programme, he said EU members were strategising on how to share their best practices on river cleaning. “We have a number of interesting experiences in Europe, with cleaning the Danube, [the] Rhine, and [the] Thames. Those were massive cleaning operations, not only about water but also involved a massive transformation in the interaction between the population and the rivers,” he said.

Mr. Cravinho said that with a new government in place, there was a noticeable change in the pace of projects such as the one to develop Smart Cities. “We have been working with Mumbai for the last three years, well before the Smart Cities project was announced. It is interesting work that has gained speed in the last six months because of the change in government at the Centre and in the State. There is an understanding that business as usual is not an option, there is a lot of desire for change and a lot of energy,” he said.

On other areas of India-EU cooperation, including combating terrorism, Mr. Cravinho said there was a need to create fluidity in information-sharing. “There is a lot of information-sharing that can and should take place between India and Europe, helping each other understand different facets of terrorism. We have a counter-terrorism dialogue happening in Brussels soon, in which we will raise the issue of information-sharing and de-radicalisation; for instance, how to prevent marginalised groups from becoming radicalised for one reason or the other. We can share good practices.”