External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday said negotiations for a free trade agreement between India and the European Union were stuck for the last six years due to reluctance of the grouping.
The talks for the FTA have been stalled since May 2013 when both sides failed to bridge substantial gaps on crucial issues, including on data security status for the IT sector. Asked during an online interactive session whether the talks were stalled due to India’s reservations against FTAs, Jaishankar vehemently dispelled it and said: “It is not a question of principle. India has nothing in principle against free trade agreements or preferential trade agreements.”
Launched in June 2007, negotiations for the proposed agreement have witnessed many hurdles as both sides have major differences on crucial issues.
Giving a run down of the developments relating to the proposed FTA, Jaishankar said at the 6th Edition of MED dialogue that India was negotiating on it with the European Union till 2013 but the deal could not be closed.
“There was a change of government in 2014. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered to the EU that they would like to reopen and continue those negotiations. In fact, it was the EU which took the stance from 2014 that look, right now we have other priorities, we do not know whether we are ready.”
“So for the last six years, and I say this as someone who sat in the room, heard my own leaders say this, heard the responses from the EU leadership. The reluctance to engage from 2014, this I can testify personally, is not from the Indian side. It is from the EU side, even today,” he added.
The external affairs minister said he had visited Brussels twice in the last one year and brought up the issue with the concerned commissioner.
“In the last one year, I have been to Brussels twice, and brought up the subject with the commissioner mandated to deal with us. And that was pretty much the answer I got which was that we need to think this through, we are not sure we want to do this at this time,” he added.
Asked about India pulling out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) last year, he said it had to take the decision as its concerns were not addressed.
“The idea that there would have been great benefits waiting for us at the end of the rainbow, sorry I do not buy that,” said Jaishankar about observations that India would lose out for pulling out of the RCEP.
The RCEP deal sealed last month comprised 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and five of the bloc’s dialogue partners – China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Asked about India’s relations with the US, Jaishankar said it is on an upswing because there is a structural convergence between the two countries.
“I am very confident that India-US relations will continue to do well,” he said.