ANI Photo | ‘Never been closer’ to reaching pact on free trade with India: EFTA

European Free Trade Association member countries and India are making “progress” on an agreement on free trade, with officials saying that the two sides have “never been closer” to a pact.
In exclusive interviews with ANI on Wednesday, Norwegian Trade Minister Jan Christian Vestre and Swiss State Secretary for Economic Affairs Helene Budliger Artieda, commended growing ties between India and EFTA member countries.
However, they refused to comment on the deadline for the finalisation of talks on free trade.
The European Free Trade Association is a trade organisation and free trade area consisting of four European states- Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The two officials were on a visit to India to hold a discussion with the Indian government on a trade pact between New Delhi and the four nations.
EFTA and India began talking about a Free Trade Agreement 15 years ago, and despite 20 rounds of negotiations, they have not yet been closed.
Norway Trade Minister Vestre informed that he is happy with the progress on the free trade agreement between India and four European countries.
Though both ministers refrained from mentioning any deadline for the pact, they said both sides are positive and they are hoping that the agreement will be finalised “soon.”
This is the third visit of Vestre to India in 2023 and the seventh for Artieda
Without giving details about sticking points in negotiations, the Minister said, “We have been negotiating on a potential free trade agreement for the last 15 years. We have made quite some efforts this year. This is my third visit to India this year. And I’m very happy to see that we are also progressing now. We will move forward. We have resolved a lot of issues. There are some remaining issues. But I’m still optimistic that there might be opportunities for us to enter into such an agreement, which will be beneficial for both sides.”
Vestre held meetings with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal during his stay.
Helene Budliger Artieda, meanwhile, said that the two sides “have never been closer” to a pact on trade.
“It’s been ongoing for 15 years. And I think we’re now in the position where the five countries are motivated to dedicate time and resources. I’ve been to India seven times this year. I think that that represents intention and positive discoveries… we can say that it’s an ongoing negotiation, but I think we’ve never been closer (to an agreement) during this last 15 years,” the Minister mentioned.
When asked about India’s role amid the current geopolitical situation, Artieda said: “Geopolitics are changing our world more rapidly. So I think it’s geopolitics outside, but we’re also now all of a sudden waking up to a world in poly crisis.”
“On the increase, we’re seeing that less than 50 percent of people actually live in non-democratic countries. So that’s that’s, that’s a big concern. And I think India has what it takes to be the lighthouse for democracy,” she said.
Meanwhile, Vestre talked about the “successful” G20 presidency, saying India showcased its stand and how India would like to connect with like-minded partners, friends and allies all around the world.
“I think India has an extremely important role to play, and again, we talked about the green transition. I mean, this matters because it represents 1.4 million people, one of the biggest economies in the world, and I think India is now in fifth place when you look into the GDPs, so when India moves, the world starts moving,” he said

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