PM Modi to engage with EU; Focus likely to sustain pressure on China

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The defence and security cooperation between the two sides has been on an upswing. India considers 27-nation EU a strategically important region for India. The EU as a whole in 2018 was India's largest trading partner.

PM Modi with EU leaders_1
PM Narendra Modi with Former President of European Council Donald Tusk and Former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at the 14th annual summit between India and the European Union in 2017
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team's diplomatic skills will be on test yet again. At a time when India finds itself in constant diplomatic tussle with China and would need the 'global support' to sustain pressure on Beijing, stage is now set for the next round of crucial India-European Union Virtual Summit on July 15 and that would focus on multilateralism, health issues and ways to expand economic engagement.
Prime Minister Modi will lead the Indian delegation at the Summit while the European side will be headed by President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. At least on two major fronts, the Summit would be important as the two sides will deliberate on the 'origin' of Covid19 and how the World Health Organisation can possibly learn some lessons and also how "overdependence of EU" on China for trade and supplies may be minimised.
India could help provide some cushion and support to the European countries move the supply chains 'out of China' or diversify production to other countries in order to "lessen" the dependence on China. "There is talk of strategic autonomy which requires not being dependent for critical supplies on the outside world," the source maintained in Delhi. If successful, such moves could impact China's trade with EU.
Contemporary global issues will obviously figure prominently at the parleys. "What is happening at the UN ? What is happening at the G-20 and issues like What is happening to the World Trade Organisation will also figure," an informed source said here. The source said -: "How the dynamics of international relations is looking at will also be discussed at length".
Reports in western media say, the EU’s seasonally adjusted trade with China fell from €46.5 billion in January 2020 to €43.1 billion in February 2020. In March 2020, EU’s trade with China fell further to €41.9 billion, while in April 2020 it bounced back above its January 2020 level to €49.0 billion. This increase was mainly led by a sharp increase in imports from China compared with January and March 2020 respectively, and was largely due to an "increase in imports" of specific made-up textile articles such as textile face masks, surgical masks disposable face masks and single use drapes, said a report in Euro-stat. Indian authorities feel there should be global responses to deal with challenges including the likes of Covid19 crisis. On the FTA, the sources said, the summit will be "critical" in finding a way forward.
"Intense trade talks had begun long back, but at some stage there was a feeling that we need to give a pause to those negotiations. Thus last few years there has not been substantial engagement on the possible free trade agreement. But after December 2019 when there was re-election in European Council and the commission, there have been exchanges at various levels".
"Now, may be it is time to look the matters afresh and see if there is a meeting the the Summit will be critical in terms of discovering a meeting ground between two sides," the source maintained. India's bilateral trade with the EU in 2018-19 stood at USD 115.6 billion with exports valued at USD 57.17 billion and imports worth USD 58.42 billion.
The defence and security cooperation between the two sides has been also on an upswing. The Brussels Summit in March was also likely to be attended by Mr Modi the visit was cancelled in view of the coronavirus outbreak. India certainly considers 27-nation EU a strategically important region for India. Even otherwise, the EU as a whole
in circa 2018 has been India's largest trading partner.
Sources said the Summit meeting through video conferencing will take place in the background of EU wanting to play a more active role globally and also attaching higher priority to relationship with India. The new leadership in EU believes that the important bloc needs to play a stronger role in the global platform. The leadership has also held telephonic conversations with Prime Minister Modi soon after taking over.
The last Summit between the two sides took place in 2017 and this year's meet also marks 20 years of the Summit process between India and EU. Notably, however, there are issues between two sides. The European Parliament has tried to 'interfere' and pass comments on internal matters of India. A sub-committee of European Parliament on human rights has also written to Union Home Minister Amit Shah about its concerns over the arrest of activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde.
To a question, the source said, "The European Council and the European Commission had taken a line in June that the European Parliament is an independent entity which sometimes take positions which do not reflect necessarily the position of either the Council or the Commission".
At the Summit it remains to be seen both in practical term and also from an academic point of view on both sides - India and the EU - would work to probe into the 'origin' of Covid19. India had backed EU resolution in the World Health Assembly for a probe on the same.
"In Europe, there has been lot of interest in terms of greater transparency knowing more about what happened and how things developed and what were the initial responses (in China on the spread of Coronavirus)," the source emphasised.