Roundtable on EU-India Partnership: address by Chief Guest Ambassador Smadja (01/11/2010)

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here today at the Roundtable on EU-India Partnership and I would like to thank the EU Chambers of Commerce in India for organising the event, with the support of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and for your invitation to address this event as Chief Guest.

This Roundtable will not only allow the creation of a – no doubt, very useful - platform for exchanges among government and business, but would also allow us to launch the EU-India recognition programme, a highly visible initiative to recognize organisations and professionals of excellence who have already paid a significant contribution towards strengthening  trade relations between India and the European Union.  Our bilateral trade relationship is strong and growing and forms a key part of the wider EU-India strategic partnership.  The event also provides the opportunity to launch a local European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC) here in Mumbai.

Indeed, also resulting from the contributions offered by the future awardees of this programme, trade and bilateral relations between the EU and India are developing positively.

In fact, EU-India trade in goods tripled in 5 years while trade in services grew even faster. The EU is by far the biggest trade and investment partner of India, well ahead of the next placed in the list. In the first seven months of 2010, exports from the European Union to India have increased by as much as 26 percent, while trade in the other direction from India to the EU has also increased, by 25%.  The EU is also by far the first investor in India (excluding Mauritius) and is happy to be the most important recipient of Indian investments abroad.

Yet, our trade and investment ties remain below their potential. The proportion of EU imports in India's total imports in fact has declined over the past few years.  It is our joint challenge to redress this. Also, I need to note that India still represents less than 2% of EU’s total trade and this leaves room for enormous expansion in future!

In this context, the negotiations for a Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement between India and the EU represent a great opportunity for both partners. Negotiations are now at a crucial phase, with intensive work taking place in the run-up to the EU-India Summit meeting in December.   We are optimistic that the current intensive phase of negotiations will yield good results: we could then use the upcoming Summit to agree on the broad contours of the deal and give the negotiations a final push towards conclusion.

The future agreement will aim to further facilitate and open bilateral trade in many different areas.  It should appropriately address both market access aspects as well as regulatory issues that underpin the effective operation of markets. This is important to ensure that the Agreement fulfils its potential to promote additional trade in goods and services and investment flows and encourages business to take full advantage of the potential of trade to support growth and development.   Both sides stand to benefit from an Agreement that is sufficiently wide-ranging and ambitious for this purpose.

Commitments should be meaningful and make a real change on the ground for business. For tariff on goods, which can be easily quantified, there is already an agreement that at least 90% of tariffs will be eliminated on both sides. This means zero import duty for the bulk of European goods imported into India or Indian products exported from here to the EU. We are now negotiating in detail how to go beyond this benchmark to best cover the interests of Indian and European exporters.  This is only one area where respective negotiators are fully engaged.

But let me note that once the negotiations are over and a win-win agreement in place, the real test of the results will show itself in the practical   implementation of the agreement and the success of businesses in taking advantage of the new commercial opportunities it will generate.

In this regard, I am fully convinced that that the organisations and professionals to be identified through the EU-India recognition programme will play an eminent role in making sure that the opportunities created by the future Agreement will be fully utilised.

At the same time, I am very happy to welcome today the launching of the Regional Office of the European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC) in Mumbai.

I understand that this opening will be followed soon by the opening of other Regional Offices in Kolkata and Bangalore in the next few months. In this respect, I am convinced that a widespread geographic presence of EBTC across India, together with that of already existing European chambers and business groups and organisations, will create an effective support and representational network for European business interests.  In this, of course, it is important for all the participating organisations to work effectively together, while keeping at the same time their separate identities and missions.

As regards the EBTC, the EU has been supporting the project since October 2008. The mandate of EBTC is to promote partnerships between European and Indian business and research communities with the view to encourage and strengthen the representation of EU interests in India and to enrich the bilateral policy dialogues by involving, in particular, the respective private sectors. The EU, of course, fully supports EBTC's vision to be recognised for the quality of its services, its knowledge of the Indian market and its capacity to reach out to the entire European business and research community.

EBTC is working hand in hand with existing networks, initiatives, partners, and institutions – both in Europe and India - in order to identify synergies and create a real value added.

Looking at the development process in India, the distribution of economic activities and taking into consideration the interest of companies, research institutions, associations and business promotion bodies it is essential to have regional centres in the dynamic cities of the country.

The new regional office in Mumbai will allow EBTC to scale up market entry opportunities for European business, in particular SMEs.  For now, EBTC is giving a special emphasis to four sectors, namely Energy, Environment, Transport, and Biotechnology.  But obviously the interests of European companies and SMEs in India go much wider than that.

The Mumbai region not only has the strongest industry concentration, but also numerous internationally reputed research and development organizations which form an ideal basis for the development of modern productions and for provision of services.

We have amongst us the EBTC Director, Mr. Poul V. Jensen, who is based in New Delhi and is responsible for the overall development of the EBTC portfolio in India. You will have the opportunity to hear more details on this Centre from him shortly.

And before giving the floor to Mr. Jensen, let me just welcome the Honourable Members of the European Parliament, members of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee of the Parliament. Their participation tonight and their extensive visit to India this week are a testament to the strong interest on the part of the EU in the current developments and economic potential of India.

Thank you for your attention.