Conclusion of India-EU FTA talks possible this year: Nirmala Sitharaman

NEW DELHI: Government sees a “possibility” of conclusion of free trade pacts with EU as well as EFTA, the four-member grouping that includes Switzerland, this year, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said today.

“Yes, there is a possibility (of conclusion of FTAs with EU and EFTA this year) because in several issues they are guided by each other,” Sitharaman told reporters here.

“If there is political will … and there is a lot of give and take from both the sides the agreement can be reached. And therefore I am optimistic,” said the minister.

Negotiations for the free trade agreement between India and EFTA, four-member grouping that includes Switzerland, is stuck on the issue of intellectual property regime (IPR). The European Free Trade Association is a grouping of Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

Data exclusivity provides protection to the technical data generated by innovator companies to prove the usefulness of their products.

In pharmaceutical sector, drug companies generate the data through expensive global clinical trials to prove the efficacy and safety of their new medicine. Switzerland has huge interest in this sector.

By gaining exclusive rights over this data, innovator companies can prevent their competitors from obtaining marketing licence for low-cost versions during the tenure of this exclusivity.

“On data security it was mentioned that whatever position Europe takes EFTA will also follow that .. They (EFTA) cannot take a different position from the EU. So if we are reaching an agreement stage with the European Union, largely the terms and conditions of those will be similar and compatible with the EFTA,” Sitharaman said.

India and the four-nation bloc started negotiations for the free trade agreement (FTA) in 2007.

Last month, India and EU failed to made the much-awaited announcement on resumption of long stalled negotiations for a free trade agreement as many bottlenecks still remain.

During the 13th India-EU Summit, held after a gap of four years and attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and EU leaders, both the sides, however, welcomed the re-engagement of discussions for furthering the proposed pact.

It was widely expected that India and the 28-nation European Union (EU) would announce resumption of the talks, which have been held up since May 2013 as both the sides are yet to bridge substantial gaps on crucial issues, including data security status for the IT sector.

“These negotiations are an ongoing process. We have never given up on them,” Sitharaman said.

Launched in June 2007, the negotiations for the proposed BTIA have witnessed many hurdles with both sides having major differences on crucial issues like intellectual property rights, duty cut in automobile and spirits, and liberal visa regime.

On the FTA with Australia, Sitharaman said the negotiations are moving “very close to a conclusion”.

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