India, EU free trade pact to be concluded this year: Sharma

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India today exuded confidence that negotiations for the proposed comprehensive market opening pact with the 27-nation European Union will conclude in 2011.

"We will definitely complete the talks this year," India's Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said here.

The talks for India-EU free trade pact, officially dubbed as Bilateral Investment and Trade Agreement (BITA), are expected to conclude before the forthcoming India-EU Summit later this year, an official added.

India and EU are negotiating the pact since 2007 but are not able to reach a consensus on the inclusion of intellectual property rights (IPR) and social issues like environment and labour standards in the proposed BITA.

"There are certain issues like child labour and IPR which we are trying to negotiate...," said Sharma, who is leading a business delegation of industry body Ficci.

India has been opposing the inclusion of these issues in free trade pacts or under the aegis of the World Trade Organisation, as there are other international fora to deal with non-trade matters.

Indian pharma companies and some non-government bodies have expressed concerns that inclusion of IPR in the proposed agreement would affect the sector's ability to produce and export low-cost drugs.

The country and its largest trading partner are negotiating the pact with the aim of increasing bilateral commerce that stood at $75 billion in 2009-10.

Earlier this month, European officials visited India to discuss technical issues related to the trade opening pact.

BITA will provide for liberalising trade in services, an area of strength for India that faces hurdles like visa problems in several EU member countries like Germany and Britain.

According to a report prepared by the Ficci, the pact will improve market access for goods and services.

It says that if the trade pact is formalised, India-EU trade is likely to more than double to exceed $207 billion by 2015.

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