Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 19
India is dangling the trade carrot to the European Union in order to mute its criticism on human rights over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the Kashmir lockdown.
The EU has not been free with its view on both issues but recently the newly appointed Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto has also not been unreserved with its support. In fact, Ugo had said last year’s visit of a delegation of European Parliament members to Kashmir was not “an expression of EU’s policy decision”.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has acknowledged that India’s relationship with Europe has “under-performed” mainly because “we aren’t having the kind of strategic conversation with Europe on a sub-group basis”. In other words, India has in its sights not just the EU but formats followed by China like 16 + 1 or sub-groups or the Benelux countries that enjoy cultural compatibility.
The visit of High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles and New Delhi becoming the unlikely venue for his interaction with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has already served to underscore India’s comfort in dealing with both camps on an equal basis.
India had stepped up its ties with the EU by agreeing upon annual summits since 2000. The arrangement began stuttering after both sides abandoned Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations in 2013 following six years of negotiations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended a summit in 2017 but there was none over the next two years. Modi’s plan to visit Brussels in March was conceived last year with an eye to boost investment in India by signing the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPA).
But an FTA will only be possible if both sides showed flexibility. The EU doesn’t see investment as part of the FTA, insists that India allow imports of fully made cars and wants changes in government-procurement procedures. India objects to EU’s attempt to include labour and human rights issue for which it suggests separate working groups.
Jaishankar had recently made a whistle-stop tour to many European countries outside the traditional ambit of top-level visits which signal India’s intent for tie-ups in high technology related to space, alloys and metallurgy. The EU is India’s largest trading partner with combined trade of $115 billion, about $20 billion more than India’s trade with China. But India enjoys a trade surplus on the strength of $60-70 billion worth of trade in services.
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