India, EU open new round of trade negotiations on FTA
Bonn: India and the European Union Monday opened a new round of trade negotiations here in an attempt to overcome their remaining differences, which have been holding back the signing of a long-awaited free trade agreement (FTA).
Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma held discussion with EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht at the European Commission building in Brussels, a commission spokesperson said.
The negotiations are taking place in the backdrop of fresh optimism expressed by both sides that after more than six years of negotiations a deal on a comprehensive Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) between India and its largest trading partner could be reached before the end of this year.
Germany, the 27-nation bloc's largest economy and a driving force behind major policy decisions, last week voiced its support for an early conclusion of the India-EU FTA negotiations, saying it will be in the interest of both nations.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at the conclusion of the second inter-governmental consultations between the two countries in Berlin last Friday, held out the prospects for signing a "broad-based, ambitious and balanced FTA in 2013."
The main contentious issues after 15 rounds of negotiations include EU demands that India should hike its equity cap on FDI by foreign insurance companies and banks from 26 to 49 percent and India should further slash its import duties on automobiles.
The two sides are also locked in a dispute over the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) by India, which has intensified in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict on April 1, rejecting the patent right of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis for its cancer drug 'Glivec'.
It came nearly a month after the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) upheld the first compulsory licence issued by the Indian Patent Office to Hyderabad-based drug maker Natco Pharma to manufacture and sell a generic copy of German drug company Bayer's patented cancer drug Nexavar.
Medical relief agencies and organisations representing thousands of cancer patients in India have expressed concern that the EU might seek changes to India's laws on intellectual property rights, which could have an adverse impact on the country's generic drugs industry and will bring to an end the availability of life-saving medicines at affordable prices.
The EU's refusal so far to grant India data secure status, which is crucial for India's IT services industry, differences over opening up the Indian market for imports of farm products from the EU and incorporating an investment protection clause in the FTA also are at the centre of the negotiations in Brussels.