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Brussels, Nov 11

Britain has made the European Union (EU)-India free trade agreement (FTA) “as its number one priority”, a British member of the European Parliament said.

Sajjad Karim, the special rapporteur for the FTA negotiations, said he held discussions on the subject with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

“On the top of the agenda of those two meetings was the EU-India FTA,” he told a seminar on the EU-India FTA and corporate social responsibility organised by the Brussels-based think tank the European Institute for Asian Studies.

“The British government will now step up to make sure that all routes and channels are used to provide the pragmatism that is necessary,” EuAsiaNews quoted him as saying.

“This is really a test case. It should have been finalized by now. Either we should have an agreement or give it up as a bad idea,” said Karim, who is of Pakistani origin and was first British Muslim to be elected to the European Parliament in 2004.

An EU official at the seminar requesting anonymity, said the negotiations have entered a “crucial stage” and that both EU and India are determined to make them succeed.

The EU-India FTA negotiations started in 2007 and about 13 rounds have been completed, but the issues of sustainable development linked with the agricultural, industrial and labour sectors are yet to be overcome in order to finalise the agreement.

The EU official said it was possible to conclude the negotiations before the next EU-India summit in February.

Madi Sharma, member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), said the FTA could be beneficial both to Europe and India with the potential to bring gains in the form of increased development, wealth and jobs.

EESC is a consultative body of the EU composed of employers’ organisations, trade unions and various interest groups.

Sharma, however, complained about lack of “transparency and consultations” in the negotiations and called for the views and concerns of civil society in Europe to be taken into account.

Sharma, a British businesswoman whose father is Indian and mother Austrian, called on the EU to ensure that the FTA is governed by an “effective human rights clause in line with the EU’s past practice”.

Giving the Indian perspective, Rajgopal Sharma from the Indian embassy in Brussels said the FTA “is the most ambitious agreement that India is hoping to enter into as compared to the earlier FTAs with other countries”.

“The EU is our most important trading partner. We have held extensive consultations before the commencement and during the process of the FTA negotiations across the length and breadth of the country, including the informal sector and the civil society,” he added.

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