India hopes to seal EU free trade deal by April
(NEW DELHI) - India expects to sign a "balanced and ambitious" free trade agreement with the European Union by April, an official statement said on Thursday.
Chief negotiators for India and its largest trading partner will meet next month, capping a series of 15 rounds of talks, India's Trade Minister Anand Sharma said in a statement released by his ministry.
"Loose ends, if any, will be dealt with at the ministerial level in April," Sharma said, adding "both sides expect to be able to close negotiations by April 2013".
India and the EU are hoping "for a balanced and ambitious agreement," Sharma said.
Sharma made the comments in a meeting with the French Minister for External Trade, Nicole Bricq, during talks in New Delhi, the statement said.
Bricq is part of a delegation led by French President Francois Hollande who is on a two-day visit to India.
India and the 27-member EU have been negotiating the market-opening pact since June 2007 to boost bilateral commerce.
But progress has been stymied by differences over intellectual property rights and efforts by Brussels to link trade with environmental issues and India's social sector performance in areas such as child labour.
India has opposed incorporation of what it calls "extraneous" non-trade issues into the EU talks.
Sharma said India looked to France to take the lead in resolving some of the contentious areas.
In a separate meeting with French industry leaders, Sharma said there was considerable scope for French investment, especially in high-tech sectors, environmental technologies, energy, infrastructure and food processing.
France is India's fifth-largest trading partner and investor in Europe, and fourth-largest recipient in Europe of Indian investments.