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Transcript of Special Virtual Media Briefing by Secretary (West) following India-EU Leaders’ Meeting

May 08, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Namaskar. Very Good evening to all of you. Thank you for joining this very special media briefing on the occasion of the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has just completed meeting with all 27 leaders of the European Union as well as the leadership of the European Commission, the European Council. To brief you more on this we have the privilege today of having Secretary (West) in Ministry of External Affairs, Shri Vikas Swarup with us along with Shri Sandeep Chakravorty, Joint Secretary (Europe West) in the Ministry. To begin the proceedings, I would request Secretary (West) to make the opening statement. We have received a number of questions; we will try to answer them thereafter. Sir, may I give you the floor.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Thank you Arindam. We have just concluded a very historic and a very successful India-EU Leaders’ Meeting. The meeting was an unprecedented occasion when the Prime Minister of India was a special invitee at the EU Council Meeting. As you may be already aware, the EU+27 format has only been done with the United States before, the most recently with President Biden in March 2021. The India-EU Leaders’ Meeting was an initiative of the Portuguese Presidency which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Portugal’s efforts towards placing the EU's relationship with India as one of the top priorities on the EU’s external agenda also bears testimony to the deep and trusted ties between India and Portugal. As you know, Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Costa has personal affinity with India and in today’s meeting; he very proudly displayed both his Portuguese passport as well as his Indian OCI card.

Today, Prime Minister Modi and Costa have jointly written an Op-ed in the leading European media portal ‘Politico’ emphasizing the significant potential of the India-EU relationship to advance trade and investment ties, support effective multilateralism and a rules-based order. The European Union is an important partner for India. Our common values such as democracy, rule-of-law and fundamental freedoms make us natural partners to meet the shared challenges in an increasingly multipolar world. At the same time, the political logic of a stronger India and the EU is complemented by compelling economic rationale. The EU was our largest trading partner in goods 2019-20, ahead of China and the US, with total trade close to USD 90 billion. The EU’s strength in regulatory matter and standards is also of value to India. We are already closely cooperating on digital standards. It has also taken a lead in Sustainable Financing. For a more ambitious India, the EU is a natural partner.

Today’s Meeting provided a platform to the leaders of India and the EU to exchange views on key topical issues of mutual interest. The three broad clusters of discussions were 1. Trade, Technology and Connectivity, 2. COVID-19, Environment and Climate Change and finally, Foreign Policy, Security and Regional Issues. In his initial remarks, Prime Minister talked about the rationale of a stronger relationship of India with not just with EU but with all the EU Member States and described the India-EU strategic partnership as a force multiplier for the global good in the 21st century. In addition to the Presidents of the EU Council and EU Commission, leaders of as many as 19 EU Member States also spoke during the meeting. This is an indication that the priority accorded by the EU to relations with India is shared across the board by all its Member States.

Let me now give you a flavor of the discussions and outcomes in each of the three clusters. Firstly, on Trade, Technology and Connectivity, major decisions have been taken by the leaders. India and the EU have agreed to resume negotiations for balanced and comprehensive free trade and investment agreements. Negotiations on both the Trade and Investment Agreements will be pursued on parallel tracks with an intention to achieve early conclusion of both of them. As you know, the negotiations were suspended in 2013 after several rounds of talks spanning six years. Both sides have worked intensively over the last few months to arrive at a common understanding. The decisions are also a result of the political desire on both sides to harness the full potential of our economic engagement and work towards an early post-COVID-19 recovery.

Furthermore, on the economic front, both sides also agreed to have dedicated dialogues on WTO issues, regulatory cooperation, market access issues and supply chain resilience, demonstrating the desire to deepen and further diversify our economic engagement. There has also been an agreement to start negotiations on a separate agreement on geographical indications. The High-Level Trade and Investment Dialogue will monitor the progress of these new decisions. The Dialogue, co-chaired by Commerce & Industries Minister and the EU Trade Commissioner, has been instrumental in arriving at the decisions announced today.

India and the EU have also agreed on a comprehensive and ambitious Connectivity Partnership covering digital, energy, transport and people-to-people connectivity. The Partnership outlines a shared desire to promote a transparent, viable, inclusive, sustainable, comprehensive, and rules-based connectivity. It will enable private and public investments in connectivity projects as well as leverage public funds to spur private investments in sustainable projects, through a variety of tools such as Infrastructure Investment Trusts, green bonds, Debt Funds, Real Estate Investment Trusts, and Export Credits. Just yesterday, European Investment Bank and SBI, have agreed to invest 100 million Euros in Neev Fund II on climate action and sustainability business financing for Indian SMEs. A finance contract of 150 million Euros was also signed for Pune Metro Project between DEA and European Investment Bank. We are also hopeful that the Partnership will inspire more investments from the European Union including in the National Infrastructure Pipeline.

The Connectivity Partnership also reflects the ambition of both sides to build on their synergies and pursue sustainable joint projects in third countries, most notably in the Africa, Central Asia and Indo-Pacific region. This will open up new avenues of cooperation for both sides. On Technology, India and the EU+27 shared the view that technology should be used for achieving the welfare of our people while being rooted in democratic values. There was also emphasis on keeping our networks secure. While continuing our close cooperation on global standards, both sides also shared the ambition for cooperating in new and emerging technologies, including 5G and beyond. The leaders looked forward to the early operationalization of the Joint Task Force on Artificial Intelligence, a decision of the last year’s 15th India-EU Summit. The EU side also proposed new cooperation in High-Performance Computing in the context of COVID-19 drug discovery and extreme weather events. India is keen on taking this proposal forward. Prime Minister also invited the EU Member States to participate in the India-EU High-Level Digital Forum that is likely to be organized later this year. The objective of the Forum is to enhance digital cooperation between India and the EU through linking of Startups, supporting the digital economy, and developing a structured approach for enhancing investments, etc.

The second major theme for discussion was COVID-19, healthcare, climate and environmental issues. Prime Minister appreciated the EU’s swift response for mobilizing support to India’s COVID-19 response. As you would recall, India had kept its supply chains open during the first wave of COVID-19 last year and supplied essential drugs and masks to several EU countries. The EU’s current assistance is an example of trusted partners supporting each other in times of need. Prime Minister also requested the EU’s support for our joint proposal with South Africa for a TRIPS waiver on vaccine production-related patents. The US has also supported the proposal a couple of days ago. The EU’s support at WTO for this waiver will ensure that we can scale up the vaccine production for equitable and global access and save lives.

On Climate Change, the Prime Minister put forth India’s achievements on the Climate Action front. India is one of the best achievers of its goals under the Paris Agreement, and in this context, Prime Minister invited the EU to support India’s ambitious plans of deployment of large-scale renewable energy. Prime Minister also highlighted the need for Climate Justice to provide the necessary space for the developing countries to grow and achieve their ambition. India also highlighted its contribution to several global initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance, LEAD IT and CDRI. In this context, the Prime Minister welcomed the EU’s decision to join the CDRI. On Foreign Policy and Security issues, Prime Minister welcomed the growing convergences between India and the EU on regional and global developments and briefed on developments in our own region. He conveyed that a stronger and more strategic India and the EU relationship is crucial for ensuring a rules-based, multi-polar order.

The leaders underlined their commitment to a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific and discussed the new avenues of cooperation in the region. Prime Minister highlighted India’s policy of "Security and Growth for All in the Region" or SAGAR and the developmental efforts in its neighbourhood for promoting regional prosperity. He also talked about the shared threat from terrorism and violent extremism. Overall, I would like to give some takeaways from the Leaders’ Meeting:

  • It is a watershed moment in the India-EU Strategic Partnership. It is a culmination of India’s efforts to enhance its ties with the EU and its Member States in recent years;
  • The meeting reflects the EU’s desire to strengthen its relationship with India and work together for a stable and multipolar world.
  • India-EU cooperation is important to tackle global issues such as COVID-19, Climate Change, terrorism and strengthening multilateral institutions.
  • India and the EU have effectively capitalized on the political significance of the Meeting by arriving at important decisions on Trade & Investment Agreements and also adopting a comprehensive Connectivity Partnership.
  • The meeting in the India-EU+27 format has imparted a new momentum to the partnership for scaling ever greater heights.

Thank you this concludes my opening statement. Now I will be happy to take questions.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much sir for such a comprehensive overview of what happened sir. There is a lot of interest in this meeting that took place. Some of the issues you have already covered but I will go through some of the questions. The first set of questions relate to what you mentioned regarding trade, particularly on the FTA negotiations. Sidhant Sibal from WION is asking, "What are the key outcomes in terms of FTA negotiations? When will the talk start? Do we have any timeline when we can see the actual pact?” Manish Jha from Business World wants to know, "can we see the relaunch of the FTA getting through this year?”, Pushkar from Indian Express wants to know whether any timeline has been set on the completion. Maha from CNN News18 mentioned that "till sometime back that EU had described AatmaNirbhar Bharat as protectionist, as an impediment in resuming trade talks. How has the change in stand been affected if at all, and any milestones or timelines for the trade negotiations?” Manish Jha from Business World would like some clarity on whether concessions on services and barriers for Indian workers to work in the EU, or resolving the issue of tariff over dairy and meat and India's position of climate change with respect to promised funds and technology from the EU, has it changed? Nayanima Basu from the Print wants to know "whether India is willing to begin FTA talks from where it was last left in 2013. And what are the new issues that will be added to the talks since seven years is a long time?” And also would like to know about the bilateral investment pact.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Thank you. I think all of these questions pertain to the cluster on trade and economic issues. So as I mentioned in my opening remarks, the decision on resuming negotiations on trade and investment agreements was I think the most important outcome of the leaders’ meeting. Both sides agreed to resume negotiations on both agreements parallelly. The high level dialogue on trade and investment will steer the negotiations and decide on the timelines. As I already told you, this dialogue is chaired by Honourable Commerce and Industries Minister on our side, and by the EU Trade Commissioner on the EU side. And the two leaders I think will decide on when the talks can resume, what are the timelines, in a structured manner. Since the goal is to achieve a balanced, comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreements, I think all the outstanding issues that you mentioned whether it is dairy, treatment of Indian workers, access for our dairy products and agricultural products to the EU, I think all these issues will be on the agenda as and when the trade negotiations resume, which will be decided by the high level dialogue.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Moving on to another outcome, a major outcome of today's talks on connectivity partnership. Sidhant from WION would like to know, "what kind of cooperation will happen? Is third country connectivity part of this plan?” Huma from Financial Express want more details of the connectivity partnership and Manish Chand from India Rights Network wants to know, "whether this will reinforce similar initiatives in other parts of the world? And what about projects in third countries?”

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): So I would request all the media persons to please go through the connectivity partnership document, which is being uploaded on the MEA website. As you will see there, It is a very comprehensive blueprint for a sustainable and inclusive connectivity in pillars of digital, energy, transport, and people to people ties. There is also an ambition to work together in other geographies, such as Africa, Central Asia, and the Indo Pacific, in particular, by utilising private sector financing. So, as you will see, this is not just an empty piece of paper, it is a partnership which is based on very strong fundamental values which are common to India and the EU, such as inclusivity, democracy and fundamental rights. And there is a lot of content in this partnership; it is not just an empty boast on paper. And once you go through the document, you will see that in each of those pillars, there is a lot of flesh that has been put in.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir moving on to another related issue of Science and Technology cooperation. Shankar from IVD would like to know, on trade and investment and also on science and technology cooperation, what has been the EU’s response? And Huma from Financial Express wants to know, "whether the Chinese space debris hurtling towards Earth was discussed as well as Peaceful Uses of our Outer Space?”

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Well I think this particular issue mentioned by Huma was not taken up for discussion. However, virtually all the EU leaders who spoke today acknowledged India's strong strengths in science and technology and advanced greater cooperation in emerging technologies and digital including high performance computing and artificial intelligence. As you know, with the support of one particular EU Member State, quantum computing centre is already operating in Pune. So I think once you read the joint statement, you will get more details about the specifics in the area of science and technology.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir, expectedly vaccine cooperation has been a lot of interest, and I'll read out a few of the questions. Dhairya Maheshwari from Sputnik would like to know, "the significance of vaccine cooperation between India and the EU in the overall relationship, given the massive vaccine requirement of India in coming days.” She adds that "the EU block has so far refused to follow the lead of the US in backing the patent waiver on COVID vaccine. Did Prime Minister Modi take up the issue and what was the EU leadership response?” Sidhant from WION says, "do we have any assurance from the EU side on the same issue?” Pushkar from Indian Express would like to know, "whether there was any discussion on COVID vaccines and will the EU help fast track the proposal on IPR waiver on vaccines at the WTO?” and Manish from Business World just wants clarification if this same issue on the waiver of IPR or vaccines for global cause took or was discussed in the talks.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): So obviously, COVID-19 was a central topic of the discussion since the India EU leaders meeting was happening against the backdrop of the pandemic. We are experiencing the second wave; much of Europe is experiencing the third wave. So obviously, this was a very, very important subset of the discussions that were held today. And I think each and every leader who spoke today underlined the need for greater cooperation between India and the EU for ensuring vaccine production, including a proposal from one of the EU leaders for a partnership with India, in the Indo Pacific for ensuring vaccine access. As I have already mentioned, Prime Minister invited the European Union to support the TRIPS waiver, which we have put forward together with South Africa so that they can be equitable vaccine access for the entire world. And as the US has already supported it, we will be watching the evolving EU position on this particular issue.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Moving on to other areas, Indo Pacific in particular. There is question from Sidhant from Wion, "did the EU and India discuss anything of practical cooperation on the ground?” Ranjit Kumar from Rakshak News asked, "say that the EU wants to increase security cooperation with India under its new Indo Pacific strategy. What will be the new elements of security cooperation between India and the European Union?” Huma from Financial Express, mentioned that, "EU too has talked about Indo Pacific what kind of cooperation they're looking for with India in the region?” And indirectly there is also a question from Huma, "if you could share more details of cooperation with the maritime domain. And were there talks about some sort of multilateral engagement with the EU navies?”

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Yes, the Indo Pacific was discussed at length. As you are already aware, three EU countries, Germany, France and the Netherlands have already come out with their own strategy papers on how they view the Indo Pacific and what role they want to play in that, the EU has now also come out with its own position paper on this particular issue. India obviously invited the European Union to support the pillars of the Indo Pacific oceans initiative outlined by Prime Minister Modi at the East Asia Summit in November 2019. I had already mentioned in my opening remarks, the importance of the connectivity partnership for opening new avenues of cooperation in the Indo Pacific. Other potential areas of cooperation were discussed, including maritime cooperation and tackling common challenges such as piracy, sustainable use of maritime resources, cooperation with regional bodies like IORA, and cooperation for vaccination in the Indo Pacific. So yes, I think the Indo Pacific will in the foreseeable future, remain a very important subject of discussion and cooperation between India and the EU.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir, I have some other separate topics, small questions, one was from Sidhant, "whether Chinese aggressive actions was discussed during the meet?” and Manish Jha from business world about, "whether the issue of terrorism did pop up in the discussions and what measures to curb it?” And finally, "whether the issue of Taiwan's presence at the World Health Assembly later this month, was that discussed?” Three questions sir.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Well, certainly, in the discussion on foreign policy and security issues, Prime Minister outlined developments in our region. And he was heard with great attention by all the EU leaders, they also exchanged views on other developments in our region such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc. The particular issue that was mentioned was not raised at this meeting, but you know, there are other forums in which those issues are also being discussed.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir may I thank you for taking, in fact, all the questions that have been posed. That brings us to the end of this special media briefing. I would like to particularly thank the presence of Secretary (West), Shri Vikas Swarup, as well as Joint Secretary (Europe West), Sandeep Chakravorty for briefing us in detail and taking all the questions about the special event that took place meeting between India and the EU India, Leaders’ Meeting of all 27 EU countries. Thank you for joining in. Thank you.

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