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India, EU free trade pact by end 2010: Envoy

Chennai, Feb 17 (Calcutta Tube) A far-reaching free trade agreement will be ‘ready to be signed’ between India and the European Union by the end of this year even as child labour and intellectual property rights regime in this country remain sore points, EU ambassador here Daniele Smadja has said.

‘Our mandate is to complete the negotiations for the free trade pact soon, even though intellectual property rights and several other regulatory issues remain to be sorted out by the two sides,’ the envoy said.

 

‘We are working at resolving them and the agreement will be ready to be signed by end-2010,’ Smadja told IANS, during his visit to a school at Tiruvottiyur, on the northern outskirts of Chennai, that has rehabilitated child labourers.

 

EU has contributed more than $250,000 over three years to this programme for 25 deprived communities, steered by an Indian non-government organisation, Arunodhaya. In Tamil Nadu, EU supports six programmes worth nearly $6 million in assistance.

 

The EU envoy said European nations were keen to support programmes that ensure sustainable and continued education for such rescued children so that they can grow into responsible adults.

 

‘Having children in school is the only way a country like India can contain child labour and increase exports.’

 

Smadja said the free trade pact would give a major boost to economic ties between India and EU, as Europe is already its largest trade partner with immense opportunity. Two-way trade tops $75 billion.

 

But India also needs to be pro-active, he said.

 

‘European pharmaceutical companies, for example, want to export medicines and equipment to India, but want lower tariff,’ he said, adding India’s average applied tariff on medicines is 14.5 percent compared to 4.1 percent for EU.

 

On marine exports from India, Smajda said fair trade required respect for the health concerns of people and said the new certification norms required by EU were solely targeted at adherence to proper standards.

 

‘Even Indian experts have accepted there are antibiotics, residues found in perishables exported from India. It is not about our government. If our people, our independent experts, are not satisfied, we cannot accept it,’ he said.

 

‘But we know India’s marine export industry has taken swift action towards compliance.’

 

Smajda said genetically modified food was a major concern in Europe as it has been in India — the latest case point being the moratorium by India’s environment ministry on allowing commercial sowing of Bt Brinjal.

 

‘Our processes are transparent and taken after public consultation. There are two issues here — authorisation to place the product in the market and labelling,’ he said, adding if these are in place, people can choose if they want to eat genetically modified food.

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