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India And EFTA Move Closer To Free Trade Deal

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

04 December 2006

India and the European Free Trade Area have established a Joint Study Group to explore the possibility of entering into a broad-based trade and investment agreement.

The agreement to set up the Joint Study Group (JSG) was signed at a meeting of the EFTA Council in Geneva on Friday in the presence of Shri Kamal Nath, India's Commerce and Industry Minister, and Doris Leuthard, Federal Counsellor, Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Switzerland.

EFTA comprises all 25 member states of the European Union, plus Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Ministers from all the member states were also present at the meeting.

The study aims to examine all aspects of the existing bilateral economic relationship between India and the EFTA, and recommend measures to deepen economic engagement through an expansion of two-way trade and investment flows.

It is envisaged that the bilateral trade and investment agreement will cover trade in goods and services, investment, trade facilitation, technical standards and SPS, intellectual property rights and dispute settlement.

The JSG will meet alternatively in New Delhi and Geneva and has been asked to give its report within one year. The first meeting of the JSG is scheduled to be held in February 2007.

Welcoming the setting up of the JSG, Shri Kamal Nath noted that: “We (India) share a warm and friendly relationship with EFTA States. There cannot be any better way to further strengthen these relationships than by talking about enhancing trade and investment flows. We are looking forward to a deeper economic engagement with EFTA”.

According to the Indian government, an economic tie-up with EFTA would link Europe's strong technology base with India's huge pool of skilled human resources, reaping "rich dividends on both sides".

"India’s strength in the services sector and the large service consuming economies of EFTA States present an ideal situation for enhancing trade flows in services sector. India is emerging as a major manufacturing base for the world economy," India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry said in a statement.

Bilateral trade between India and EFTA in 2005/6 totalled US$7.4 billion, 9.3% higher than in 2004/5. However, while EFTA's exports to India grew by 11% over the year, India's exports to EFTA declined by 3%.

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