The European Union and India have agreed to resume stalled free trade talks and seek closer cooperation to tackle climate change at a virtual summit, as concerns over China bring Brussels and New Delhi.

Partly overshadowed by India’s COVID-19 crisis, Saturday’s meeting brought together Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all 27 leaders of the bloc for the first time in eight years, a sign of renewed EU interest for the Indo-Pacific region. .

Previous EU-India summits have only involved the Indian Prime Minister and the Chief Executive and President of the EU.

“We agreed to resume negotiations for a … trade deal that would address the current challenges,” the EU and Indian leaders said in a statement after the talks, adding that for the negotiations to be successful, both sides must resolve the issues. market access issues.

At the same time, the EU and India will start talks on a separate investment protection agreement and an agreement on geographical indications – famous brands often linked to places of manufacture, from French champagne to Darjeeling tea in India.

“Between the EU and India there is a close relationship but also untapped potential,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “The most untapped potential lies in trade and investment.”

China’s rise from a benign trading partner to a rival power with a growing military presence has alarmed the West and its allies in the Indo-Pacific, where Brussels wants more influence.

“We agreed that as the world’s two largest democracies, the EU and India have a common interest in ensuring security, prosperity and sustainable development in a multipolar world,” the joint statement said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the resumption of talks.

“The negotiations have also been stalled on several occasions and that is why I am so happy that they have now resumed,” she said after an informal EU summit.

She said she expected the work to proceed at a “much faster pace.”

EU-India trade negotiations were frozen in 2013 due to differences including tariff cuts, patent protection, data security and the right of Indian professionals to work in Europe.

Competition with China

Bloc leaders, at an EU summit in Porto, Portugal, faced pressure on the Modi government’s crackdown on dissenting civil society groups, including Amnesty International, which staged a candlelight vigil in front of the summit location.

Ahead of the talks, Amnesty International called on EU leaders to push Modi to “live” shared values.

“Intolerance of dissent has been a hallmark of Prime Minister Modi’s tenure,” said Eve Geddie, director of the human rights group’s European office.

A 2020 European Parliament study puts the benefits of an EU trade deal with India at 8.5 billion euros ($ 10.2 billion), although the estimate was made before UK departure from the block.

The EU and India have also agreed to build joint infrastructure projects around the world, especially in Africa, which will be described as a connectivity partnership.

The deal follows an agreement between the EU and Japan in 2019, seeking an alternative to China’s broad Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure strategy that raised suspicions in the West and in Tokyo.

The two sides also pledged increased cooperation to limit climate change. The statement said the EU and India will hold meetings to collaborate in the areas of renewable energy, energy storage technologies and modernization of power grids.

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