Monday April 25, 2022

European Union and India agree to broaden ties amid Ukraine war

European Union and India agree to broaden ties amid Ukraine war

Narendra Modi (R) with Ursula von der Leyen during a meeting in New Delhi, India on Monday. Agence France-Presse

The European Union (EU) and India agreed on Monday to set up a trade and technology council to step up cooperation, as the bloc’s chief held talks with officials in New Delhi who have seen a flurry of top visits since the start of the Ukraine war.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is on a two-day trip to India’s capital, part of Western efforts to encourage New Delhi to reduce ties to Russia, its main weapons supplier, following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

India has refrained from explicitly condemning Russia’s invasion, while calling for an immediate end to violence. Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation”.

The United States is the only other country that has a technical agreement with the EU similar to the one signed on Monday with India.

Von der Leyen’s visit comes days after British Prime Minister Boris met his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, and agreed to increase bilateral defence and business cooperation. Johnson was preceded by US officials and the foreign ministers of Russia and China.

“I think this relationship today is more important than ever,” von der Leyen said in her opening remarks during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We have a lot in common but we are also facing a challenging political landscape.” She identified cooperation on security, climate change and trade as the main areas of focus.

“Both sides agreed that rapid changes in the geopolitical environment highlight the need for joint in-depth strategic engagement,” an EU-India joint statement said.

“The Trade and Technology Council will provide the political steer and the necessary structure to operationalise political decisions, coordinate technical work, and report to the political level to ensure implementation and follow-up in areas that are important for the sustainable progress of European and Indian economies.”

The EU chief was expected to offer to increase sales of European military equipment to India and relaunch talks on a free trade deal, a senior EU official said before the talks began.

“They reviewed progress in the vibrant India-EU strategic partnership & agreed to deepen cooperation in areas of trade, climate, digital technology and people-to-people ties,” Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, said on Twitter.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said after meeting Von der Leyen that they “exchanged views on the economic and political implications of the Ukraine conflict”.

Like many European countries, India has continued to buy oil from Russia despite sanctions imposed on Moscow from the United States and other developed countries.

The European Union’s chief executive seeks to increase sales of European military equipment to India and relaunch talks on a free trade deal when she met India’s prime minister in New Delhi on Monday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s visit is part of Western efforts to encourage India to reduce its ties to Russia after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and follows a trip last week by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“There are a whole host of Western leaders reaching out to India right now to see what alternatives we can provide,” the senior EU official said. “The key is that we want to bring forward this relationship, work on technology together and bring India into our camp, that’s the main message of our visit,” the official said.

Von der Leyen arrived in India on Sunday for a two-day official visit, her first as president of European Commission.

India has not explicitly condemned the Feb. 24 invasion by Russia, its biggest supplier of military hardware.

Von der Leyen aims to agree with India’s premier, Narendra Modi, to set up a new trade and technology council similar to an EU-U.S. model, which could discuss digital privacy, regulation of technology companies and social media platform supervision, the senior EU official said.

The EU and India will also likely agree to relaunch free trade talks, which were frozen in 2013 over differences including tariff reductions and patent protection, and have not moved forward significantly since an EU-India virtual summit in May 2021.

India, the world’s second-most populous country with nearly 1.4 billion people, is seen by the EU as a crucial ally to help manage China’s rise from a benign trading partner to a rival power with a growing military presence.

A 2020 study by the European Parliament put the benefits of a trade deal for the EU with India at up to 8.5 billion euros ($9.17 billion), although the estimate was made before Britain’s departure from the bloc.


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