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Push for EU trade talks

New Delhi: Senior officials of India and the European Union will meet in Brussels next week in a bid to break the deadlock over a free trade agreement.

"The meeting will take place on April 12 in Brussels. Both the sides will take stock of the progress on the free trade pact," a senior commerce ministry official said.

A lot of things have changed since 2013 and now the time is right to resume the talks, the official added.

Negotiations have been held up since May 2013 and both the sides are yet to bridge substantial gaps on crucial issues. Since June 2007, the two sides have completed 16 rounds of talks and five stock-taking meetings on the proposed pact, officially dubbed as the bilateral trade and investment agreement (BTIA).

The negotiations have witnessed many hurdles with both sides having major differences on key issues such as intellectual property rights, duty cuts on automobile and spirits and a liberal visa regime.

Besides demanding significant duty cuts in automobiles, the EU wants tax reduction on wines, spirits and dairy products and a strong intellectual property regime.

India wants the EU to grant it a data secure nation status, which is crucial for Indian IT companies wanting market access.

Commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu had recently indicated that negotiations on the agreement could resume soon.

Two-way trade between India and the EU stood at $89.5 billion in 2016-17 against $88.4 billion in the previous fiscal.

WTO agenda

Suresh Prabhu has said India is against taking up environment issues at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as they are not linked to trade and commerce.

"There is a separate protocol for environment. The WTO deals only with trade issues. But, at the same time, even while doing trade, we should not overlook the importance of bringing in environmental issues. We are concerned about it, though we will not like to have an agreement on environment at the WTO. That part we do not want," Prabhu said at a function.

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