Resumption of India-EU free trade talks strategic: Jaishankar


NEW DELHI: The decision by India and the European Union (EU) to resume free trade talks was not a “capricious” one, but a call taken after the two sides felt confident about it, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar said Wednesday.

“The progress that we made this year, most of all, is political… it is political, it is strategic,” Jaishankar said at a session on the future of India and the EU relations that follows a summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of all 27 EU member states in May.

The key highlights of the summit, held during the Portguese presidency of the EU, was a decision by the two sides to resume free trade talks stalled since 2013 as well as join hands for a connectivity partnership in India and in Africa and Central Asia.

“Connecitvity, data, technology even the climate challenge — all of this is going to require us to work together more closely,” Jaishankar said. “We have crossed a threshold, we have seen more momentum more energy” in the relationship, he added.

On his part, Portugese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said India was one of EU’s key partners in Asia, not China, which he described variously as a “selective partner,” “competitor” and “systemic rival”.

“The way we see institutions, the way we see political fundamentals, the way we see human rights, the way we see the role of civil society is very different when you see from the point of view of Brussels or when you speak from the view of Beijing,” Silva said at the online event hosted by the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank. “That is why in these crucial areas our partner in Asia is not China, our partner in Asia is India,” he said.

According to Silva, the European Union was paying less attention to India than it should have. The US, the UK and several European countries had prepared their national strategies for the Indo-Pacific region. “We needed to focus on this issue at the European level. This (a EU level strategy for the Indo-Pacific) was the purpose of the (India-EU) Leaders’ meeting that was held in virtual format in Porto last month. The main results of the India-EU summit were political — the resumption of a high level dialogue between the two largest democracies, India and the EU, the improvement of sectoral partnerships that are very, very important, the connectivity partnership and the resumption of the free trade talks,” he said.

Going forward, the areas that the two partners would be looking at would be technology and artificial intelligence, Jaishankar said. Data security, cyber security and privacy, EU and their conversations with big tech were all issues of interest to India, he said, adding that connectivity in general and digital connectivity in particular was a “fairly fertile area to be explored” between India and the EU.

On the question of waiver of patents related to vaccines, there seemed to be differences between the two sides with Silva saying that the EU was of the view that innovation and research and development needed to be preserved given that there were predictions of future waves of the covid-19 pandemic. The EU had given one billion euros for scaling up vaccine production in Africa and a similar amount was being contemplated for Latin America, he said.

Jaishankar on his part stressed that to scale up vaccine production to meet the challenges for inoculating the world, Europe needed to keep open supply chains as well as consider a waiver of patents as proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO. The minister said that without “dramatically” scaling up production, the world would not be able to deal with the challenges of today.

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