The European Union and India have agreed to resume stalled free trade negotiations and to seek closer cooperation to combat climate change at a virtual summit, as concerns about China bring Brussels and New Delhi closer.
The meeting on Saturday, partly overshadowed by the COVID-19 crisis in India, brought Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all 27 leaders of the bloc together for the first time in eight years to express the EU’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region to manifest.
At the past summits between the EU and India, only the Prime Minister of India and the Director General and Chairperson of the EU were involved.
“We have agreed to resume negotiations on a … trade agreement that will respond to current challenges,” said EU and Indian leaders in a statement following the talks, adding that both sides are solving market access problems would have to make the talks successful.
In parallel, the EU and India will start talks on a separate investment protection treaty and a geographical indication agreement – famous brand names often associated with the place of manufacture, from French champagne to Indian Darjeeling tea.
“There is a close relationship between the EU and India, but there is also a lot of untapped potential,” said the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. “The untapped potential lies in trade and investment.”
China’s rise from a benevolent trading partner to a rival power with a growing military presence has alarmed the West and its allies in the Indo-Pacific, where Brussels wants more leverage.
“We agreed that the EU and India, as the two largest democracies in the world, have a common interest in ensuring security, prosperity and sustainable development in a multipolar world,” the joint statement said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the resumption of talks.
“The negotiations have stalled many times too, and that is why I am so glad that they have now started again,” she said after an informal EU summit.
She said she expected the work to go “much faster”.
Trade talks between the EU and India were frozen in 2013 due to differences such as tariff cuts, patent protection, data security and the right of Indian professionals to work in Europe.
Today’s meeting was a milestone in relationships.
We have agreed to resume negotiations on a free trade agreement!
At the same time, we will start negotiations on an investment protection agreement between the EU and India and on geographical indications. pic.twitter.com/FwA35u4G6K
– Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) May 8, 2021
Competition with china
The bloc’s heads of state and government were under pressure at an EU summit in Porto, Portugal, because the Modi government took action against dissent. Civil society groups, including Amnesty International, held a candlelit vigil ahead of the summit.
In the run-up to the talks, Amnesty International urged EU leaders to urge Modi to live up to shared values.
“Intolerance of dissent was a hallmark of Prime Minister Modi’s tenure,” said Eve Geddie, the rights group’s EU bureau director.
A 2020 study by the European Parliament put the benefits of a trade agreement with India at up to € 8.5 billion, although the estimate was made before the UK left the bloc.
The EU and India have also agreed to develop joint infrastructure projects around the world, particularly in Africa, which will be referred to as connectivity partnerships.
The agreement follows an agreement between the EU and Japan in 2019 and seeks an alternative to China’s comprehensive infrastructure strategy of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is arousing suspicion in the west and in Tokyo.
Both sides also committed to intensified cooperation to limit climate change. The statement said the EU and India would hold meetings to work together on renewable energy, energy storage technologies and power grid modernization.