EFTA-India free trade agreement likely this year: Sharma

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said that seven round of negotiations have already been completed. EFTA states include Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, besides Switzerland. It is an inter-governmental organisation that promotes free trade and economic integration between the four nations.

"We are  in the advance stage to conclude the free trade agreement. We are fast tracking the negotiations with EFTA... I hope that within a month's time, both the sides will be in a position to make specific offers...," Sharma said.

Sharma was here to inaugurate the Indian pavilion at the world's most coveted watch and jewellery show 'Basel World 2011'.

He said that India would embrace entire Europe through the comprehensive free trade agreement. India is also  deeply engaged with the 27-nation European Union for a bilateral trade and investment agreement.

The minister said that the progress of India EFTA free trade pact would be figured during his bilateral meeting with Switzerland`s Economic Minister, Johann Schneider-Ammann in Bern today.

The EFTA members are not part of 27-nation European Union.
In the seventh round of talk, which was held last month in New Delhi, both the sides discussed about market access for industrial products, fish and agricultural goods, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, customs procedures and trade facilitation, investment, intellectual property rights and dispute settlement.

India and EFTA had agreed to launch negotiations on the trade and investment agreement in January this year, following recommendations of a Joint EFTA-India Study Group set up in December 2006.

"When the FTA is concluded, we hope that there will be a significant rise in bilateral trade," Sharma said.

The trade between Switzerland and India stood at USD 18 billion in 2010 up from USD 15 billion last year.

Swiss exports to India include machines, pharmaceutical and chemical products as well as precision instruments, while imports from India include textiles, agricultural products and components for the airline industry.

There are about 170 Swiss companies doing business in India.

Sharma further said India was seeking advance scientific research and institutional linkages with Switzerland for its various sectors.

Another area of mutual cooperation has been vocational skills training modules that India strongly needs to meet the challenges that will emerge from the massive economic development taking place at present.

"We are closely looking at replicating the industrial cluster approach module and also skills training modules with the help from our Swiss counterparts. We hope the FTA will help all the sides to achieve their objective of enhancing cooperation and economic engagement," he said.

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