Weeks before the resumption of trade talks with the EU, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday met Wopke Hoekstra, deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and “discussed business and trade opportunities”. Hoekstra has been an advocate of the India-EU free trade agreement (FTA), which, he has said, would provide more opportunities for India towards the whole European continent, and that the Dutch government could play a role in facilitating that. “A deeper Indo-Dutch cross-sectoral cooperation will further strengthen & fortify the multi-faceted India-EU engagements,” Goyal tweeted after the meeting.
The meeting came a day after India and the EU on Monday decided to set up a trade and technology council to boost bilateral ties, as the bloc’s president Ursula von der Leyen met Prime Minister Narendra Modi here. New Delhi and Brussels will resume serious negotiations for the FTA in June after a gap of almost nine years.
The move underscores growing co-operation between New Delhi and Brussels, as the US is the only other country that has a technical agreement with the EU, along the lines of the one signed with India now. The council is aimed at providing political-level oversight of the entire spectrum of the India-EU ties and to ensure closer coordination.
After 16 rounds of talks between 2007 and 2013, formal talks for the FTA were stuck over stark differences, as the EU insisted that India scrap or slash hefty import duties on sensitive products such as automobiles, alcoholic beverages and dairy products. Similarly, India’s demand included greater access to the EU market for its skilled professionals.
However, both the sides have now decided to take the negotiation to its logical conclusion. The EU, including the UK, was India’s largest destination (as a bloc) in FY20, with a 17% share in the country’s overall exports. Without the UK, the EU accounted for about 15% (or $57 billion) of India’s exports until February last fiscal.