Pushing for an early conclusion of the India-EU free trade agreement will be one of the key priorities of his country’s year-long presidency of the European Union, Swedish Foreign Trade Minister Johan Forssell said on Friday.
He said that Sweden will act as an “honest broker” and do everything possible to conclude the FTA negotiations because it is in “everyone’s interest.”
The minister described India’s purchase of crude oil from Russia during the Ukraine conflict as part of domestic policies saying that each country must make its own decisions.
I have not come here to tell you what to do; the war has affected Europe in many ways, particularly in the energy situation; each country must make its own decisions and I completely agree with Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s statement that this is not the time for war, he said.
We very much hope for the war to end hopefully soon because there are no winners here, the situation in Ukraine is terrible, having a war in the middle of Europe today is a disaster, a catastrophe, he said.
Forssell said Sweden would strongly push for early finalisation of the pact during its EU presidency on the proposed free trade agreement between India and the European Union.
He also acknowledged that there are certain obstacles to finalising the pact. However, he discussed the issue of the India-EU FTA with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday.
We are looking for an agreement that is in everyone’s interest. There must be discussions and flexibility but this is one of the areas where we could cooperate during the Swedish presidency (of the EU), he said.
The growth story of India has only just begun and Sweden wants to be part of it, he added.
In June this year, India and the European Union resumed the negotiations for the trade and investment agreement after a gap of over eight years. The negotiations for the ambitious free trade agreement were suspended in 2013 after several rounds of talks spanning six years.
It is also based on trust. You can’t have it my way or the highway. You need to listen to all sides and you need to see what the obstacles are and then have an open discussion on that, Forssell said.
However, The minister admitted the FTA negotiations may not be concluded in 2023.
To be honest, I do not think such an agreement could be finalised and signed during the Swedish presidency. But we will try to push it forward and perhaps for the next presidency to finalise, he added.
For the first time, negotiations started in June 2007, however, the negotiations for the proposed agreement have faced many hurdles as both sides had major differences on crucial issues.
The talks failed temporarily after the two sides failed to solve the differences related to tariffs on certain goods and the movement of professionals.
Besides demanding major duty cuts in automobiles, the EU wanted tax reductions in wine, spirits and dairy products and a strong intellectual property regime.
The Swedish minister said lowering tariffs by India for various products would boost its trade and attract more investments.
I find the relationship between Sweden and India to be based on trust and there is a very positive view of India in Sweden, he said.
Forssell arrived here on Thursday in his first official trip to India in his first trip to Asia after being appointed as the minister of foreign trade in Sweden’s new Government on 18 October.
He is accompanied by a business delegation of chairpersons and CEOs of Swedish companies including Ericsson, Saab and Perstorp.
India and Sweden enjoy robust cooperation in diverse areas.
More than 250 Swedish companies are present in India and form an important part of the growing economic and trade partnership.
Next year, Sweden and India will celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations. The key areas of cooperation between the two countries are innovation, health care and green transition.