Notwithstanding the differences resulting in delay in inking of India-European Union free trade agreement, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said on Thursday the negotiations are progressing ‘very well’.
Reacting to reports ‘positive or otherwise’ on the ongoing negotiations between India and EU on Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement, Sharma also expressed confidence that the talks will see a ‘meaningful closure’ with both sides having an agreement which is ‘both ambitious as well as balanced’.
"I have just returned from Brussels and I am happy to share with you, because there are speculative reports which we keep on reading positive or otherwise, you hear it from me that the negotiations for the India-EU BTIA are progressing very well," said Sharma.
On Monday he had high-level talks with EU Trade Commissioner Karl De Gucht to iron out differences on various Issues, including duty cuts in automobile sector.
During the talks, both sides failed to reach on a conclusion and has agreed to meet again in June.
Last week, Germany, one of the key members of the 27-nation European bloc, very clearly articulated the impediments in conclusion of talks, which started in 2007.
EU is pressing for significant duty cuts in auto, wines and spirits and dairy products, besides hike in foreign direct investment cap in the insurance sector and a strong intellectual property regime.
India wants liberalised visa norms for its professionals, data secure status and market access in services sector.
After talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said in Berlin that India and the EU have not yet overcome ‘all the difficulties’ in reaching an agreement to conclude the FTA.
Merkel, who had jointly co-chaired the second round of Inter-Governmental Consultations with Singh, had also said that increase in the FDI cap in insurance by India was ‘undeniably’ an important issue apart from resolution of issues such as tariff rate quota on imports of German cars, services and intellectual property rights.
Sharma said both the sides have given clear mandate to negotiators for concluding a balanced and fair agreement at the earliest.
"I am confident that over the next couple of months, we should see intensification of this process and hope that we will be able to arrive at a broad understanding soon".
Already 16 rounds of negotiations have been completed but both the sides are still engaged on bridging the gap.
The two-way trade was $91.3 billion in 2010-11.
Sharma further said that in the last four years, India has aggressively pursued a policy of trade liberalisation and engaged with all dynamic parts of the world.
India is also negotiating FTAs with several other nations including Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The minister also dismissed industry reports that FTAs were not yielding positive results for India.
"India's exports are constantly growing after signing of FTAs," Sharma said, adding that the country's import bill is high because "we have to import things like crude oil, edible oil and pulses. . .but overall the trade balance is healthy".
He was replying to a question that FTAs are not benefiting Indian traders.
In December, exporters body FIEO said that shipments to several countries, with which India has signed FTAs, have shown a decline.
According to the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, during the April-September period of 2012-13, exports to Singapore were $6.6 billion, Japan ($ 2.6 billion), Korea ($1.9 billion), Malaysia ($1.7 billion) and Thailand ($1.5 billion).
These shipments are ‘much less than the pro-rata exports in the corresponding period in 2011,’ FIEO had said.