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AFP
May 9, 2021

EU and India relaunch trade quest at Covid-hit summit

AFP
May 9, 2021

Porto, Portugal: The EU and India met at a virtual summit on Saturday hoping to relaunch long-stalled trade talks and discuss how best to work together against the coronavirus pandemic battering the south Asian giant.

The devastating wave of infections sweeping India has already impacted the meeting by forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to scrap plans to fly to Portugal to see his European counterparts.

But the 27-nation bloc and the world´s largest democracy remain determined to capitalise on growing momentum for tighter relations fuelled by shared concerns over the rising might of China.

"I am positive that we will be able to do a major step forward because between the EU and India there is a close relationship, but also a lot of untapped potential," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

"The most untapped potential is in trade and investment."

EU countries have sent medical equipment and drugs worth an estimated 100 million euros ($120 million) to India as part of international efforts to help it fight against the flood of Covid-19 cases.

The focus on the virus at the summit will be on making sure the two vaccine-producing powerhouses can maintain global supplies and monitoring the spread of variants -- as well as on trying to plan together to tackle future pandemics.

"We obviously need to continue our efforts together to ramp up production, secure the necessary raw materials, and keep supply chains open," a senior EU official said.

"Leaders are going to commit to work together to better prepare for and respond to global health emergencies."

While the pandemic casts a long shadow over the summit, the key announcement is the restarting of talks with India on a free trade agreement that have been suspended since 2013.

Von der Leyen said talks would resume on a trade pact and begin on separate deals to protect investments and regionally specific products.

She said that the two sides would also look to cooperate on developing cutting edge technologies including Artificial Intelligence and supercomputers.

Negotiations on the trade deal were halted eight years ago after getting stuck on issues including cutting tariffs and access for Indian workers to Europe.

It remains to be seen if India is now willing to drop an approach viewed as deeply protectionist by the EU to seal a deal this time round.

Britain´s departure from the bloc has also created another rival for Brussels as London makes its own play to bolster trade ties with India. The British government said Tuesday it would start formal free talks with India later this year after the two sides agreed an initial package to boost trade and investment.