India, EFTA bloc of four countries sees resumption of FTA negotiations after 5 years

NEW DELHI: India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a bloc that includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, look forward to resuming free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations after a multi-year hiatus, people familiar with the matter said . .

The two sides held their last round of negotiations in New Delhi in January 2017, and the issue of resuming talks has been raised in all recent political-level meetings between India and EFTA member states, the people said.

Two officials aware of the development said Switzerland is in talks with India over the free trade agreement with the EFTA. While the EVA is not a big bloc compared to other countries with which India is currently negotiating trade deals, it does have its strategic economic importance, the officials said, asking for anonymity.

“In the EFTA, India’s trade with Switzerland alone is significant, and the trade balance is huge in their favor. Therefore, its priority is somewhat low compared to other ongoing free trade agreements,” said an official.

According to official data, India’s total trade with the EFTA in 2021-22 was $27.23 billion, with a deficit of more than $23.7 billion.

India’s top imports from these countries are gold ($20.7 billion in 2021-2022), coal, pharmaceuticals, vegetable oil, silver, dairy machinery, medical equipment, crude oil, and scientific equipment. It exports chemicals, iron and steel, gold, precious stones, yarns, sporting goods, glassware and bulk medicines to these countries.

Negotiations for a trade agreement between India and EFTA started in January 2008. Thirteen rounds of talks were held until the end of 2013, before the negotiations were suspended. After talks resumed in October 2016, four more rounds were held.

The heads of delegation of both sides met virtually on 15 September to discuss the state of play and outstanding issues in the negotiations.

At the annual session of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry on September 29, Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal named Switzerland as one of the future FTA partners, along with the UK, Canada and the European Union.

“We have had free trade agreements with many countries in the past, but today we are working with developed countries. Australia, UAE, UK, EU, Canada, GCC group of [countries], Switzerland… All the rich countries of the world, highly developed countries. They all want to work with India,” he said during the post.

The second official said Switzerland is important because India receives significant foreign direct investment (FDI) from the country. According to the UNCTAD World Investment Report 2022, Switzerland is the fifth country to purchase the most foreign direct investment, after Singapore, the US, Mauritius and the Netherlands.

Opportunities exist for cooperation in health, telemedicine, education and technological advancements, the second official said, citing the meeting between Swiss MP Niklaus Samuel Gugger and Union Minister Jitendra Singh in New Delhi in April.

A high-level delegation from Switzerland will visit India in October and efforts will be made to continue bilateral ties in areas of mutual benefit, he added.

The EFTA states, for their part, are eager to continue negotiations given India’s current track record in quickly finalizing trade agreements with Australia and the UAE, the people said.

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