Weeks before Sweden takes over the presidency of European Union, Swedish foreign trade minister Johan Forssell on Friday said pushing for an early finalisation of the India-EU free trade agreement will be one of the key priorities of his country’s year-long tenure at the 27-nation.He said Sweden will act as an “honest broker” and do its best to conclude the negotiations for the FTA as it will be in “everyone’s interest”.
The minister described India’s procurement of crude oil from Russia amid the Ukraine conflict as part of domestic policies, saying every country must make their own decisions.”I have not come here to tell you what to do. The war has affected Europe in many ways, especially in the energy situation. Every country must make their own decisions and I totally agree with Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi saying that this is no time for war,” he said while interacting with a group of journalists.”We very much hope for the war to end and hopefully very soon because there are no winners here. The situation in Ukraine is terrible. Having a war in the middle of Europe today is a disaster, a catastrophe,” he said.
Asked about the proposed free trade agreement between India and the European Union, Forssell said Sweden would strongly push for early finalisation of the pact during its EU presidency.At the same time, he admitted that there are certain obstacles to finalising the pact.Forssell said he discussed the issue of India-EU FTA with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday.”We are looking for an agreement that is in everyone’s interest. There must be discussions and flexibility but this is one of the areas where we could cooperate during the Swedish presidency (of the EU),” he said.”The growth story of India has only just begun and Sweden wants to be part of it,” he added.
In June, India and the European Union restarted the negotiations for the long-pending trade and investment agreement after a gap of over eight years. “It is also based on trust. You can’t have it my way or the highway. You need to listen to all sides and you need to see what the obstacles are and then have an open discussion on that,” Forssell said.The minister said the FTA negotiations may not be concluded in 2023.”To be honest, I do not think such an agreement could be finalised and signed during the Swedish presidency. But we will try to give it a push forward and perhaps for the next presidency to finalise,” he added.
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The negotiations for the ambitious free trade agreement were suspended in 2013 after several rounds of talks spanning six years.Launched in June 2007, the negotiations for the proposed agreement have witnessed many hurdles as both sides had major differences on crucial issues.The talks were stalled after the two sides failed to iron out differences related to tariffs on certain goods and the movement of professionals.Besides demanding significant duty cuts in automobiles, the EU wanted tax reduction in wine, spirits and dairy products, and a strong intellectual property regime.
The Swedish minister said lowering tariffs by India for various products would boost its trade and attract more investments.”I find the relationship between Sweden and India to be based on trust and there is a very positive view of India in Sweden,” he said.Forssell arrived here on Thursday in his first official trip to India. This is his first trip to Asia, after having been appointed as the minister of foreign trade in Sweden’s new Government on October 18.Forssell is accompanied by a business delegation of chairpersons and CEOs of Swedish companies including Ericsson, Saab and Perstorp.
India and Sweden enjoy robust cooperation in diverse areas.More than 250 Swedish companies are present in India and form an important part of the growing economic and trade partnership.Next year, Sweden and India will celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations.The key areas of cooperation between the two countries are innovation, health care and green transition.