India, EU must take lead in avoiding protectionism, says Manmohan

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Brussels: Widening and deepening their strategic partnership, India and the 27-member European Union have agreed to strengthen cooperation on a wide range of issues, including counter terrorism, a new initiative to improve cultural ties, on legal agreements on extradition, and above all, to redouble efforts to ensure that by early next year a free trade agreement is ready for signatures.

Even as it looked that an agreement on movement of professionals was very much on the cards, despite earlier resistance by the EU, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for “taking the lead in avoiding protectionist trends, keeping markets open and encouraging the free flow of and movement of people” by the two sides.

In the two-page joint declaration released here on Dec-ember 10, it was said that an “ambitious” and “balanced” broad-based trade and investment agreement would bring significant economic benefits to both India and the EU. It was noted that “significant progress was recorded during recent negotiations” and there was agreement on “the contours of a final package,” which could be concluded by the spring of 2011.

A business summit was held on the sidelines and as Dr. Singh indicated, there are vast opportunities for Europe to invest in India in infrastructure areas, high technology, research, clean energy (solar energy was mentioned at the joint press conference), skill development and vocational training.

Responding to questions, Dr. Singh allayed fears that if any agreement was reached on free trade in agricultural products small and medium farmers in India would be adversely affected. He said adequate “safeguards” could be put in place to take care of the concerns of farmers and small businesses.

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