NEW DELHI: India and the 27-nation European Union on Wednesday unveiled a five-year roadmap to further strengthen their broad-based strategic partnership, and decided to set up a high-level dialogue to address “trade irritants” to boost economic ties between the two sides and foster progress on the long-pending free trade agreement.
Addressing the virtual summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described India and the EU as “natural partners”, and asserted that the partnership was important for peace and stability in the world and this reality has become “even more evident in today’s global scenario”.
The EU delegation was headed by European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Reflecting growing congruence in ties, the two sides announced the institution of a separate maritime dialogue, released a declaration on moving towards a more circular economic model, recognising that post COVID-19, economic recovery offers opportunities to unleash the full potential of trade ties.
Briefing reporters on the summit deliberations, Secretary (West) in the External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup said India’s relations with China did come up in the talks and the Prime Minister shared New Delhi’s views on the ties as well as on the current situation in the border areas.
Later, at a press conference when asked whether Chinese aggressiveness and the recent incident at the Sino-India border was discussed, Michel said,”probably you know, a few weeks ago, we had a video conference summit with Chinese authorities. The relationship between the EU and China is complex. We need to tackle different issues and topics. And indeed we are in favour of a peaceful solution.”
“Prime Minister Modi had the occasion also to inform us about the latest developments regarding this incident with China, and we support all the efforts in order to maintain a channel of dialogue in order to find peaceful solutions,” Michel added.
Pakistan’s continued support to terrorist activities against India and other countries of the region too figured during the talks, he added.
On trade ties, Swarup said the two two sides have expressed their commitment and agreed to work for a balanced, ambitious and mutually beneficial trade agreement and that talks on it may start in the next few months.
On the proposed India-EU Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), negotiations for which were launched in June 2007, Swarup said no timeline has been fixed to finalise it and that both sides have agreed that the two trade ministers who have been mandated to take the dialogue forward should meet as early as possible. “Hopefully in the next few months.”
There have been many hurdles in finalising the BTIA as both sides have major differences on crucial issues and the negotiations on the pact have been virtually stalled since 2013.
A joint statement issued after the talks said the high level dialogue on trade and investment 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.
In the talks, Modi invited European companies to invest in India, given the efforts made by his government to improve ease of doing business, regulatory environment and its aim to integrate the country with global value chains, Swarup said.
The development of the digital economy was discussed and upgrading bilateral dialogue on technology such as artificial intelligence and 5G was agreed by the leaders, he added.
The leaders agreed to jointly promote a transparent, viable, inclusive, sustainable, comprehensive, and rules-based approach to connectivity to ensure that projects are environmentally, socially and fiscally sustainable and provide a level playing field for businesses, the joint statement said.
“Both sides share universal values like democracy, pluralism, inclusivity, respect for international institutions, multilateralism, freedom and transparency. After COVID-19, new problems have cropped up globally in the economic field. This requires greater cooperation between the democratic nations,” Modi said.
Swarup said the talks covered the joint response to the pandemic, strengthening India-EU strategic partnership and its various dimensions, as well as their convergences and collaboration on the global arena covering multilateralism, international organizations and contemporary developments.
Both president Michel and president von der Leyen appreciated the timely assistance provided by India in terms of supply of medicines to EU countries following the pandemic and sought India’s active engagement in the initiative of a universal and affordable vaccine for all, Swarup said.
On overall outcome, Swarup said the leaders on both sides affirmed their strong interest and full commitment to take the India-EU strategic partnership to new levels.
He said the two sides adopted the five-year roadmap as the new framework to upgrade the relationship in diverse fields – foreign policy, security, trade and investment, economic collaboration, cooperation on innovative and climate-friendly solutions, digital technologies and connectivity of the broad-based trade and investment agreement.
The leaders also welcomed the conclusion of the agreement between Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community) and India for cooperation in research and development in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The joint statement said the leaders agreed to further develop their trade and investment relations to unleash their full potential particularly in the context of post-COVID-19 economic recovery and support sustainable growth and jobs on both sides.
Asked whether the human rights issues in the context of Jammu and Kashmir and Citizenship Amendment Act figured in the talks, Swarup said it was mentioned by the EU side and that they expressed the faith in Indian institutions in addressing them.
On terrorism, the two sides reaffirmed their strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including its financing, and countering radicalisation.
The two sides also welcomed the launch of negotiations on a working arrangement between the Central Bureau of Investigations and Europol to support law enforcement authorities of India and the member states of the EU in preventing and combating organised crime and terrorism.
In his address, Modi also talked about “variety of pressures” on the rules-based international order, adding the India-EU partnership can play a significant role in economic reconstruction, and in building a human-centric and humanity-centric globalisation.
According to ‘the roadmap 2025’ document, the two sides vowed to work together to maintain peace, stability, safety and security in the Indian Ocean as well as in the Pacific, by cooperating to preserve freedom, openness and an inclusive approach in the maritime domain.
The document listed a number of areas like outer space, health and food security, research and innovation, trade and investment, clean energy and environment among the areas for expansion of ties.
The joint statement said the leaders confirmed their full support to an open, free, stable and secure cyberspace, and their commitment to foster the responsible and liable behaviour of all the actors in the cyberspace.
It said India and the EU will continue to cooperate on international and regional issues of common interest including Iran and Afghanistan.
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, Swarup said both sides recognised the value of joint, collaborative responses at the global level and that Modi appreciated the EU’s global coronavirus initiative for accelerating access to COVID-19 tools such as vaccines, treatment and diagnostics.
Recognising each other’s strengths and mutual synergies such as their role in pharmaceuticals and research, the EU and India agreed to intensify cooperation in response to coronavirus, including availability, accessibility and affordability of COVID-19 tools, he added.
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