Time For New Delhi To Get Closer To Brussels

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Brussels, Sept 14: | Updated: Sep 15 2003, 05:30am hrs
What, after Cancun Why, continue to work closely with China. When India and China joined forces at Cancun to challenge the 15-nation European Union and the United States on agriculture, the worlds two greatest trading powers discovered they had a fight on their hands, instead of the comfortable ride they had expected.

New Delhi and Beijing can now consider extending their cooperation to other areas of their relationship with the EU. For the very first time, China will shortly be issuing a strategic paper on its relations with the EU -Beijings response, as it were, to policy papers from Brussels on the EU-China ties. Now a paper from New Delhi, setting out its strategy towards the EU, would certainly galvanise its 40-year-old humdrum relationship with the EU. The long-winded statements issued at the end of the annual Indo-EU summits are no substitute for a coherent policy document.

Just drafting the paper would concentrate minds, no mean achievement on the eve of the EUs enlargement from 10 to 25 countries, eight of them from eastern Europe. Decision makers in New Delhi should take as their starting point the latest paper on EU-China relations to come out of Brussels. Entitled A maturing partnership - Shared interests and challenges in EU-China relations, the paper is intended to promote the ongoing reflection in China about future policy towards the EU, according to the European Commission.

The very first paragraph of the EC document points to a potential area of Indo-China cooperation. China, is one of the EUs major strategic partners, according to the draft EU security strategy recently submitted by the EUs high representative for common foreign and security policy Javier Solana to the EUs presidents and prime ministers at their summit meeting in June. But so is India, according to the Solana paper.

The EC paper highlights the dynamic growth in EU-China relations. Once largely confined to the areas of trade and investment, and financial/ technical assistance, they now include a robust and regular political dialogue...a number of sectoral agreements...frequent and, in many cases institutionalised, exchanges in areas ranging from global challenges... through the field of basic and applied research and technological cooperation, to the regulatory framework in key sectors of the economy.

A similar EC document on India would make many of these claims as regards Indo-EU relations also. But they would not be made with the same degree of enthusiasm, nor in such detail.

Take the subject of political dialogue. The EUs political dialogue with India, as with China, takes place at the level not only of foreign ministers but also prime ministers. It is in the nature of such meetings that they are much too brief to deal with matters of substance in any systematic way.

The EC paper on China provides a remedy for this state of affairs: It contains a long list of new action points which are sufficiently precise to allow progress to be monitored by both sides. What is more, the list includes many sensitive issues. On Tibet, for example, the EU will encourage China and the Dalai Lama to find a mutually acceptable solution...ensuring a genuine autonomy for this region.

On regional issues, the EU will work with China to strengthen cooperation on issues of mutual concern in the region, in particular as regards to assuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula, and on the Indian subcontinent, encouraging political reconciliation and reforms in Myanmar, and seeking resolution of the South China Sea issue.

The new action points include several relating to WTO. They include reinforcing bilateral dialogue and coordination in relation to the Doha development agenda and reinforcing the monitoring of Chinas implementation of its WTO commitments.

The EU will also examine Chinas request for special trade preferences under the special incentive arrangements for environmental protection of the EUs generalised system of preferences.

Cooperation between India and China in their relations with the EU would seem out of question, on the basis of the EC paper. Take trade. China is the EUs third largest trading partner: their two-way trade amounted to $110 billion last year. India is 20th, with a two-way trade of less than $20 billion.

India and China compete strongly against each other on the EU market. Their competition will intensify from 2005, with the disappearance of quotas on textiles and clothing, in accordance with the 1995 WTO agreement on this issue.

The image China and India project on the world is very different. The EC, in fact, waxes almost lyrical in its paper on China, which it describes as an increasingly energetic player in world affairs, and becoming more and more a locomotive for regional and global growth.

Two years ago when EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy was asked as to how the Union would respond if India and China were to form a strategic alliance at WTO, and given that such an alliance would attract countries such as Brazil, Mr Lamy had replied that the EU would welcome such a development. But it was clear from his tone that he thought such a development very unlikely. The Indo-China-Brazil alliance at Cancun must have come as a shock to Mr Lamy. It is now up to India to shock him further.