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EU, India get bogged down in details in trade deal talks

European and Indian leaders have hit a roadblock in summit talks aimed at agreeing what would be one of the world's largest free trade deals. Pakistan, the environment and cheap drugs were at the heart of debate.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

India opposes trade concessions for flood-stricken Pakistan

European Union leaders and Indian diplomats struggled Friday to smooth the creases in work to reach one of the world's biggest trade pacts at a summit meeting in Brussels.

Nonetheless, EU President Herman Van Rompuy tried to put a positive spin on the outcome of the talks.

"We have created momentum," he said, "for an ambitious and balanced conclusion in the spring of 2011" of "the biggest agreement concluded by the EU and one of the biggest bilateral agreements ever."

However, clear differences remained between European and Indian delegates over the fine print of the trade deal, which has been the subject of four years of stalled talks.

Among the key sticking points were arguments by the Indians that they should receive assurances that any new Free Trade Agreement wouldn't jeopardize future supplies of cheap generic medicines from India, which notably have pushed the price of anti-HIV/AIDS drugs down 99 percent.

The two sides have also squabbled over EU efforts to bring any trade pact into line with European laws on child labor and the environment.

Diplomats were also unable to see eye to eye on an EU plan to offer flood-ravaged Pakistan two years' worth of trade concessions as a form of relief. India maintains that such concessions may not be the most effective way to help the country recover.

"We're all for assistance to Pakistan, but let these two issues [of trade and relief] not be mixed," Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said in a pre-summit interview. "These are separate issues."

Anti-terror pledge

A damaged vehicle at the site of an explosion in Mumbai, November 2008

The attacks in Mumbai in 2008 shocked India to its core

The Friday meeting also produced pledges by both sides to step up anti-terror cooperation in a bid to deny terrorists safe havens in the wake of the Mumbai hotel attacks in 2008 which ended in the deaths of 166 people.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the EU leadership issued a joint declaration vowing to encourage all nations to dismantle "terror infrastructure on the territories under their control."

Van Rompuy said: "The London, Madrid and Mumbai attacks show that terrorism knows no boundaries and that a common response is essential."

The next EU-India summit meeting is scheduled to be held in India next year at an as yet unspecified date.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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