India and the European Union on Friday agreed to strengthen ties in key areas of trade and security after their 14th summit, during which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the top EU leadership deliberated extensively on bilateral, regional and international issues.
After the summit, European Council president Donald Franciszek Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker talked about the much-delayed trade pact between the two sides at a joint press event with Modi.
The two sides also inked three pacts, including one on an international solar alliance, after the summit.
The 28-nation bloc is India's largest regional trading partner with bilateral trade in goods at $88 billion in 2016.
It is also the largest destination for Indian exports and a key source of investment and technologies.
India received around $83 billion of foreign direct investment from Europe between 2000 and 2017, constituting approximately 24 percent of total FDI inflows into the country during the period, said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
Free Trade Agreement
Despite the gaps in mutual expectation, the two sides appeared hopeful of ironing out their differences. Tusk, quoting Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, said that it's important for the two sides to swim in the same direction, despite their differences.
“Let me just make a political observation. Free and fair trade agreements are not only important for our companies and citizens to prosper, but above all they strengthen the rules based international order and our way of life. The democracies of the world can be the one to set ambitious global targets, but only if we cooperate. Rabindra Nath Tagore has said, 'One cannot cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water'. I am confident that we can swim better for this important and strategic cause,” Tusk said.
Adding on to Tusk's observation, European Commission president also said that Indian and the EU remain one of the largest trade partners. "Every year we exchange 100 Euros worth of goods and services, creating millions of jobs... We are also the loudest voices in free and fair trade an this message was reinforced in today's discussion," Juncker said.
The summit last year failed to make any headway on the resumption of long stalled negotiations for a free trade agreement. Launched in June 2007, negotiations for the proposed EU-India Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) have witnessed many hurdles with major differences on crucial issues like intellectual property rights, duty cut in automobile and spirits.
India, EU to intensify cooperation on environmental challenges
India and the EU reiterated the importance of reconciling economic growth and environment protection and highlighted the importance of moving towards a more circular economic model that reduces primary resource consumption, a joint statement said. "Leaders also agreed to further intensify cooperation on addressing environmental challenges, such as water management and air pollution, acknowledged the progress in implementing the India-EU Water Partnership, including an agreed action programme," it said.
Modi also reiterated India's commitment to the Paris Agreement. "On clean energy and climate change, we are both committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement. Addressing climate change and promoting secure, affordable and sustainable supplies of energy are our shared priorities. We also reaffirmed our commitment to undertake mutual cooperation for reducing the cost of deployment of renewable energy," Modi said. Tusk said both sides adopted a joint declaration on counter-terrorism "to deal effectively with the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, terror financing and arms supply".
Deepening counter-terrorism cooperation
India and the European Union on Friday agreed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. "We have agreed to work together against terrorism and expand security cooperation in this regard," Modi said.
According to the joint statement on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism stated that the leaders "strongly condemned recent heinous terrorist attacks in India and the member states of the European Union and reaffirmed their determination to jointly combat terrorism and violent extremism in all their forms and manifestations irrespective of their motivations, wherever and by whomever they are committed".
"Condemning the recent terror attacks in Pathankot, Uri, Nagrota, Anantnag (Amarnath Yatra), Srinagar, Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, London, Stockholm, Manchester, Barcelona, Turku, and other terrorist attacks and recalling the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, the leaders called for the perpetrators of these attacks to be brought to justice," the statement said in an obvious reference to Pakistan.
Rohingya crisis figured on agenda
Both India and the EU also expressed deep concern at the recent spate of violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state that has triggered the outflow of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people into neighbouring Bangladesh.
"Both sides took note that this violence was triggered off by a series of attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants which led to loss of lives amongst the security forces as well as the civilian population," the joint statement said.
"Both sides recognised the need for ending the violence and restoring normalcy in the Rakhine state without any delay."
Tusk also pointed out that the EU would like to see the full implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission's report and India, being a neighbour, stood first in line to respond to the responsibility.
"We expect to see a de-escalation of tension in Myanmar and full application of human rights obligations in Myanmar. We would also like to see full access to the state so that aid can reach the violence-hit region. The Rohingya people must be able to return home with safety and with full dignity," Tusk said.
Brexit not to affect India EU trade ties
Speaking of the trade commitments between India and EU, Juncker said that the two groups were great trade partners, accounting for more than 13 percent of India's global trade. EU is also the largest investor in India. "The trading is almost perfectly balanced, with equal amounts of imports and exports on both sides. All this will remain true beyond March 2019, when United Kingdom leaves the EU," Juncker said.
India and the EU have been strategic partners since 2004. The 13th India-EU Summit was held in Brussels on 30 March last year during Modi's visit. The summit last year failed to make any headway on the resumption of long stalled negotiations for a free trade agreement.
Launched in June 2007, negotiations for the proposed EU-India Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) have witnessed many hurdles with major differences on crucial issues like intellectual property rights, duty cut in automobile and spirits.
With inputs from PTI
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