Senior officials told FE that on April 23, the council of ministers of Europe granted the mandate to the European Commission. The first round of negotiations for the FTA, which aims to cut duties to zero on 90% goods traded between India and Europe, will start in June/July.
Describing the proposed bilateral trade agreement as a building block for an ambitious World Trade Organization agreement, officials said trade flows were doing well but could do better. So, the two sides were now ready to pursue the bilateral trade pact.
The India-EU FTA is expected to be on the lines of the South Korea-EU FTA. South Korea-EU held their first round of FTA negotiations in Seoul recently and the second round will be kicked off in mid-July in Brussels, officials pointed out.
A planned free trade deal between the EU and India was proposed to take off in 2006, but had run into serious difficulties over inclusion of clauses relating to human rights and weapons of mass destruction.
The idea of launching free trade talks was agreed at an EU-India summit in Helsinki last October which was attended by Prime minister Manmohan Singh. However, two vexed issues have threatened to stall the process.
India is keen to launch an FTA with the EU as soon as possible, as the government regards it as a low-key way of moving the reforms process forward. The EU is bound by its leaders decision that any pact with the wider world contains a commitment to human rights and democracy.