India and the European Union (EU) are expected to deliberate extensively on ways to expand overall economic engagement, offset adverse impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and strengthen multilateralism in their online summit talks on Wednesday, sources said on Monday.
The two sides are also expected to delve into finding a way forward to resume talks on the long-pending free trade agreement, known as EU-India Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA).
The Indian delegation will be led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the European side will be headed by European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Modi was scheduled to visit Brussels in March for the summit but the visit was cancelled in view of the coronavirus outbreak.
The 27-nation EU is a strategically important region for India. The EU as a whole was India’s largest trading partner in 2018. India’s bilateral trade with EU in 2018-19 stood at $115.6 billion, with exports valued at $57.17 billion and imports worth $58.42 billion.
The defence and security cooperation between the two sides is also on an upswing.
It has been felt that there was a lack of leadership for a coordinated approach to effectively deal with the pandemic, and the two sides are expected to deliberate on a common approach in finding a solution to it, sources said. Asked whether the issue of origin of the coronavirus may figure in the talks, sources said there has been a lot of interest in Europe in knowing about it as well as on the initial response system.
On FTA, sources said the summit will be critical in finding a way forward and that the new leadership of the 27-member bloc has shown great interest in India. They said the two sides are expected to find a meeting ground on the long-pending issue.
The BTIA talks have been stalled since May 2013, when both sides failed to bridge substantial gaps on crucial issues, including data security status for the IT sector. Launched in June 2007, negotiations for the proposed agreement have witnessed many hurdles as both sides have major differences on crucial issues.
Besides demanding significant duty cuts in automobiles, EU wants tax reduction on wines, spirits and dairy products, and a strong intellectual property regime.
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