(dal The Times of India)
NEW DELHI: Could the stalled India-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have become a victim of the ongoing diplomatic tussle between India and Italy over the issue of Italian marines charged with killings of Kerala fishermen?
The ambassador of Germany - EU's most powerful country - Michael Steiner set many thinking Monday when he said that India and EU could achieve better results in their relations if the Italian marines' issue was resolved smoothly.
The ambassador insisted that he was not drawing any link between FTA, or the bilateral trade and investment agreement (BTIA), and the marines even though he brought the proposed agreement up while answering a question about the marines.
Think about FTA ... I don't want to link this ... we have to (can) come to better results if atmosphere is right,'' he said, while making his point that a result oriented approach was required to resolve the issue. The ambassador said that Italy had taken a realistic'' position over the marines.
Steiner was talking to journalists about the state visit by German President Joachim Gauck starting Tuesday. Steiner said it was in the interest of all 3 parties - India, Italy and EU - that the matter is resolved smoothly. We have so much to do here together,'' he said.
There have been far more serious rumblings in the recent past in EU about the manner in which India has handled the issue of marines. Its industry commissioner Antonio Tijani recently tweeted, "Can we keep negotiating FTA India when death penalty is considerated against EU citizens fighting sea piracy? I think not." EU ambassador to India Joao Cravinho recently said that the FTA with India could now happen only in the first half of next year.
The negotiations have remained stuck for years now and the EU has made up its mind that any substantial progress could be made only after the formation of a new government in India. The EU now seems to be focused more on signing the same agreement with the US and Japan.
The EU also urged India to find as a matter of urgency'' a mutually satisfactory solution to the case in accordance with international law and UN conventions on the law of the sea saying that the issue had a bearing on the global fight against piracy.
The government has earlier invoked anti-terrorism law SUA (Suppression of Unlawful Acts against safety of Maritime Navigation And Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf) Act which entails death penalty. EU has said that capital punishment is out of question as there is already a commitment from India to that effect, referring to foreign minister Salman Khurshid's statement in Parliament.
EU wants India to increase FDI cap in the insurance sector to 49 per cent. India will need an approval from Parliament to do this. EU also wants considerable duty cuts for its automobiles. India, on its part, has been demanding a data secure nation status from the US which is important for its IT companies.