The European Union (EU) is unlikely to settle for a ‘tariff-only’ trade agreement with India without agreeing on other key elements such as investment, environment and social issues including labour laws, the Netherlands Ambassador to India, Marten van den Berg, said. 

“We, as Europeans, think that you cannot isolate trade from some of the very relevant dimensions connected to trade. About 70-80 per cent of global trade is connected to investments. Also, trade and investment are very relevant for addressing societal issues in the areas such as environment and labour. So, when we talk about trade or investment relations, we should also have questions or dialogues on how to address the environmental challenges when we make an investment,” Berg added. 

He was responding to a question posed by journalists on inordinate delay in concluding the India-EU trade agreement during his visit to the Hindu office on Monday. 

Free trade pact

India initiated negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the 27-bloc European Union in 2007. But the talks stalled in 2013 as both sides failed to reach an agreement on key issues including duties on automobiles and spirits, intellectual property rights, and the movement of professionals. In May last year, the two sides agreed to resume negotiations for balanced and comprehensive free trade and investment agreements.  

India and the European Union are set to hold an initial round of negotiations on FTA in June with the aim of concluding it by late 2023 or early 2024.

“If we are able to finalise the trade agreement within one year (which is the target), the tariffs will go down substantially, which will have a positive impact on the trade and hopefully we can also agree on an investment protection agreement which will have a positive impact on the investments. Although I am happy with the bilateral trade figures, there is still a lot of room for improvement,” Berg. 

Support from EU

Berg also added that there is a lot of support from the European side and the member states of the European Commission for an agreement. “There is a lot of political support and also big support from the Indian side to negotiate and finalise the trade agreement, which is evident from India changing its policy style towards bilateral trade agreements with Australia and UAE.” 

Earlier in the day, the Dutch Ambassador called on Tamil Chief Minister MK Stalin and senior bureaucrats of the state to discuss the enhancement of co-operation between the Netherlands and Tamil Nadu in the areas of agriculture, academics, water & flood management, innovation, sustainable mobility, urban infrastructure, tourism & heritage and start-ups. academics.