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High-flying deals with EU

New Delhi, Sept. 7: India today signed up as a member of Galileo ' a satellite navigation system ' cut a $2.2-billion deal to buy Airbus planes and concluded two important agreements on combating terrorism and cooperation in energy with Europe.

The flurry of activity took place on the sidelines of discussions visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and current president of the European Union, had with Manmohan Singh on broadening the EU’s relations with India.

Galileo is Europe’s plan to create its own global navigation satellite system, with uses ranging from helping motorists navigate electronic maps to assisting search-and-rescue operations.

India is the fourth non-EU nation to join the project that is scheduled to go into service in 2008, with 30 satellites eventually orbiting the earth. India’s investment in the system could be about $300 million.

“The agreement... will ensure the availability of highest quality Galileo services in India,” a statement said.

Called the India-EU summit, the talks found the two sides agreeing on the urgency to battle terrorism with Britain revealing it would table a UN resolution before a General Assembly meeting next week, which the Indian Prime Minister is attending.

“We have agreed that there is no place for terrorism in the civilised world and that we would work together towards fighting it,” Singh said.

Since the London bombings, India and the UK have come closer in their perception of the terrorist threat. “There could be absolutely no justification or excuse for terrorism,” Blair said.

Blair and Singh unveiled an EU-India “action plan” to strengthen trade and security ties. The plan includes cooperation in energy ' including nuclear power ' education, science and technology.

Under the action plan, EU and Indian officials will hold talks on disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, on terrorism and its financing and on organised crime.

The two sides will also set up joint panels to boost trade and investment.

Singh said his government had cleared the purchase of 43 aircraft from European plane maker Airbus Industrie for Indian Airlines for around $2.2 billion.

But strains over trade resurfaced as India pressed for greater access to EU markets. Commerce minister Kamal Nath said the EU’s actions against Indian products the bloc claims are sold under market value or “dumped” were a major concern for India.

Blair said India, and China, also needed to open markets.

Much time was spent on giving a human face to globalisation, which Singh called “inevitable” and called for care to be taken to deal with its “downside”.

In a coincidence, the “downside” of India ' and its growth story that is drawing world leaders like Blair ' became evident today when the UN released its human development report. It showed no progress by India.

Cherie Blair found first-hand evidence, cuddling “underprivileged” children who still make a pretty picture.

Tomorrow, the two leaders head to Udaipur, and not Shimla as earlier planned, for India-UK talks.

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