Four-nation bloc EFTA is looking at significant reduction in trade barriers on sectors such as machine tools, advanced chemicals, pharma, chocolates, Norwegian and Icelandic fish in the proposed free trade agreement with India, a Swiss minister said.
Swiss State Secretary for Economic Affairs Helene Budliger Artieda also said that with India, the EFTA grouping is aiming for an ambitious and comprehensive agreement in trade in goods, services and protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs).
India and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland - are negotiating a Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA) with a view to boosting economic ties between the two regions.
Negotiations on the agreement were officially launched in January 2008. 13 rounds of negotiations were held until autumn 2013 before the talks were put on hold. After talks were resumed in October 2016, a number of rounds have taken place.
“Regarding trade in goods, India applies high tariffs on many of the EFTA countries' exports. We obviously look for a substantial reduction of trade barriers, particularly for such high-value-added products as machine tools, advanced chemicals and pharmaceuticals, Swiss chocolate, Norwegian and Icelandic fish, and so on. This is our main focus,” Artieda told PTI in an e-mailed interview.
EFTA has 29 free trade agreements (FTAs) with 40 partner countries including Canada, Chile, China, Mexico, and Korea.
Replying to a question whether Switzerland is seeking zero import duty on gold from India under TEPA, she said, “we understand that gold is a very sensitive topic for our Indian colleagues and the ultimate goal of each negotiation is to find a good balance respecting the key interests and sensitivities of both sides”.
Gold has a large footprint in the India-Switzerland bilateral trade, which stood at USD 17.14 billion in 2022-23. Out of this, imports stood at USD 15.8 billion in that fiscal.
On any deadline for concluding the talks, the Swiss minister said negotiations for TEPA have been going on for more than 15 years and a lot of effort from both sides has been made during the past few months in order to conclude these negotiations swiftly.
“We should seize this excellent momentum and continue to work constructively towards a successful conclusion of a mutually beneficial agreement in the coming weeks,” Artieda said.
She added that the agreement and a new bilateral investment treaty would send out a clear message to the Swiss and Indian businesses to further exploit the potential.
“The conclusion of these agreements is clearly the next important step for both our countries,” the minister said
Replying to a question about ways to increase Swiss investments into India, she said Swiss companies are determined to invest in India and governments can foster conducive conditions to enable it and the trade pact is the cornerstone of these efforts.
“At the moment, high customs duties are an impediment for trade and hence, for further investments. Swiss companies are known for being innovative. Therefore, an adequate protection of IPRs can play a major role in companies' strategic long-term decisions to invest in India,” the minister added.
The Swiss companies, she said, interested in investing more in India come from different kinds of sectors like MEM (machinery, electrical and metal), pharmaceutical, finance, construction, sustainable technologies and cleantech industry and ICT services.
Currently, there are approximately 330 Swiss companies in India, creating more than 1,70,000 jobs. More than half of them manufacture in India and export from there worldwide.
“There is immense potential for collaboration in the development of infrastructures – notably railways, water/waste management and renewable energies – and areas such as clean technologies,” she said.
On India-Switzerland innovation platform, the Swiss minister said that the platform will be officially launched on October 30 during a three-day Indo- Swiss Dialogue on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) at the National Center for Biological Sciences.
“The goal of the innovation platform is to grow our collaboration in a more strategic way in areas that are of importance to both our countries, such as health, sustainability, and digital transformation,” she added.
A free trade agreement between the two regions is officially dubbed as TEPA. Under such pacts, two trading partners significantly reduce or eliminate customs duties on the maximum number of goods traded between them, besides easing norms to promote trade in services and investments.
FTA countries are not part of the European Union (EU). It is an inter-governmental organisation for the promotion and intensification of free trade. It was founded as an alternative for states that did not wish to join the European Community.
India's exports to EFTA countries during 2022-23 stood at USD 1.92 billion as against USD 1.74 billion in 2021-22. Imports aggregated at USD 16.74 billion during the last fiscal as compared to USD 25.5 billion in 2021-22.
The trade gap is in favour of the EFTA group, according to the data of the commerce ministry.