India-EU free trade agreement (FTA) chief negotiators will be meeting on Friday to discuss the way forward. The meeting is important as it comes barely a week after Britainâ€™s business minister Sajid Javid called on Indiaâ€™s commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman and discussed the possibility of a trade pact between the two countries, post-Brexit.
Sitharaman said that the offers for the proposed India-EU Broad-based Bilateral Trade & Investment Agreement have to be tempered because Britain is now out of the EU. She, however, added that the FTA with the EU wonâ€™t be worse for them.
A duty-free access to EU will make Indian exporters highly competitive there. For instance, Indian yarn, fabrics and garments attract export duties of 4%, 5% and 9.6%, respectively, in EU, while competitors like Bangladesh and Pakistan export there at zero duty.
According to trade analyst, Javidâ€™s visit might have prompted the EU to hasten the meeting between the two sides for the proposed FTA. This is because the EU hadnâ€™t given any dates for the resumption of stalled negotiations till as late as last week despite India seeking dates for the talks even before the India-EU summit in Brussels on March 30.
A source said that the Fridayâ€™s meeting could be another â€œstock-taking exerciseâ€ and serious negotiations will still take some time to resume. However, it could set the stage for negotiations to start at the earliest. As many as 16 rounds of negotiations took place between the two sides between 2007 and 2013, but the negotiations were stuck after that.
Differences already persist on the broad contours of the proposed FTA, including on EUâ€™s insistence that India cut import duties on auto parts and wine and strengthen intellectual property rights regime and Indian demand for more liberalization in services and greater flexibility on data privacy.
India also feels the flexibility shown by it in further opening up to foreign investments in more than a dozen sectors should be considered positively by the EU.
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