India-EU virtual summit: Talks on FTA to resume, focus on dealing Covid crisis

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Sidhant SibalUpdated: May 07, 2021, 07:40 AM IST

File photo. Photograph:(AFP)

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The summit was to happen in Portugal for which Indian PM Modi's visit was scheduled, but the visit was postponed due to the covid crisis in India

After a gap of eight years, India and the European Union (EU) will resume talks on a "comprehensive" free trade agreement, a key outcome of the India-EU leaders meeting that will take place virtually on Saturday. The summit that takes place around 5 pm IST will see Indian PM along with Heads of State or Government of all the 27 EU Member States present.

With a focus on a "balanced, ambitious" FTA pact, European sources called the resumption of FTA talks a "breakthrough". Other key outcomes will be on connectivity partnership that will "bring region, people" much together. This is the second time the EU will have such a partnership with any country — the first was Japan.

The summit was to happen in Portugal for which Indian PM Modi's visit was scheduled, but the visit was postponed due to the covid crisis in India. Portugal is the President of the Council of the European Union and the virtual India-EU Leaders meet is being hosted by Portugal PM António Costa.

A release by the Ministry of External Affairs said, "The India-EU Leaders' Meeting is an unprecedented opportunity for discussion with all the leaders of the EU Member States. It is a significant political milestone and will further build on the momentum witnessed in the relationship since the 15th India-EU Summit in July 2020."

This is the second time this format of one world leader and all 27 EU member states is meeting, the first was with US President in March this year. PM will also participate in a meeting of the European Council as a special invitee at the invitation of the President of the European Council Charles Michel.

"The meeting on Saturday will be between two natural partners. World's second largest democracies that share values, have converging interest, and support multilateralism. We need to demonstrate a democratic and open model is the most capable and able to address the challenges of the world," said, European sources on India EU meet on Saturday.

Vaccines will be another key focus as the virtual summit, with a waiver on intellectual property rights on covid vaccines to be part of the discussion. After the US announced its support to waiver to intellectual property on covid vaccine patent, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that the block is ready to have a discussion on the subjects.

EU has been exporting a large number of vaccines, something which helps the world. India, too, had recently sent vaccines to more than 90 countries under its vaccine outreach programme. India had paused the outreach as the second wave of covid crisis wreaks havoc in the country.

"All countries with significant production should resume covid vaccine export," said European Sources but explained, "everyone understands India needs to make sure its citizen" get vaccinated and nobody "will be pressuring PM Modi" to start export right now.

Other key focus areas will resilient supply chains, with a special focus on medical supply chains, artificial intelligence, supercomputing, with sources describing India as "truly a powerhouse on the digital partnership".

On Indo Pacific, the EU is keen to "reinforce" its position, given that just a few weeks ago European Council had approved the conclusions on the EU's Indo-Pacific strategy. The human right remains another area of discussion under the India and EU human rights dialogue.  

"We respect India as a secular democracy and human rights part of the political dialogue between India And EU," said European government sources.