Indian prime minister’s initial discussion with EU Commission president sets the tone for the larger issues and to ensure that India-EU ties are back on track after a lull.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi had discussions with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in what is being seen as a prep ahead of his India-EU Leader’s Meeting on May 8.
Much rides on the discussions between the EU and India after a long interval. The ties are multi-faceted and there was a boost last July to the India-EU Strategic Partnership. The virtual summit on May 8 would provide a further momentum. The India-EU Leaders' Meeting will be the first assembly in the EU+27 format and reflects the shared ambition of both sides for strengthening the India-EU Strategic Partnership.
India’s efforts to deal with the renewed surge of the Covid-19 pandemic will be one of the items on the table. The EU and its member states mobilised support to assist in India’s fight to contain the spread of infections in what has been a deadly second wave. Security cooperation, connectivity, trade, investment and the fight against climate change will be the other essential items up for discussion as well.
Earlier, in speaking to the media, European Union Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto emphasised on the need for a global response to the COVID-19 challenge and the summit would attempt to assess on how to tackle it. "The leaders' meeting is going to take place in the backdrop of a pandemic. And India and EU will begin with initial proposition which is to show solidarity,” he said adding, “We need a global response to this global challenge. The summit will discuss how to go about it and how to translate it into concrete steps. And how EU and India together can shape the agenda of international community when it comes to the response to COVID," he said.
Commenting on the broader agenda Astuto stated, "It would be an interesting meeting vis-a-vis rest of our broader agenda which includes cooperation on security and also on connectivity, trade and investment and fight against climate change and digital transition.”
A partnership on connectivity (energy, digital and transportation projects), among others, is set to be confirmed by the two parties on May 8. The new agreement on infrastructure would offer investors from both sides multiple opportunities in Europe, Asia and Africa. Unlike the business model practised by China, which has come in for global examination and criticism, the project between the EU and India would be enabled through involvement of the private sector from both sides, along with entrepreneurs and start-ups – and with public sector companies providing support.
An FTA between the EU and India has been a topic of much debate but there is a cautious optimism flowing that there is, after periods of long pause, an intent displayed by both parties given that the FTA needs to be approached in a more measured manner once the pain points are ironed out.
The EU has already signed a comprehensive investment agreement with China. An FTA for India with the EU, its largest trading bloc with total bilateral trade of over $91.4 billion in 2019 – accounting for 11 percent of India’s overall trade – needs to be the logical step forward given that it has been in the balance for well over a decade. India, on its part, has already signalled its intent to doing business with overseas investors by relaxing FDI rules across key sectors. It is also willing to protect the interests of overseas entities as they bid to do business with India. In the event of an FTA, if it does happen, trade between India and the EU will triple.
India-EU ties will officially come of age post the virtual summit on May 8. There is more than just the issue of trade that needs to be addressed by the two parties who are natural partners based on their shared vision of a rules-based global order, sustainable development and trade & investment. These similarities by itself are a great step forward towards re-establishing ties, that have largely remained dormant, with a generous dose of warmth and cooperation.