New Delhi Sweden will push during its presidency of the European Union (EU) in 2023 for the speedy finalisation of a free trade agreement (FTA) with India though there are obstacles in the way of a deal, Swedish foreign trade minister Johan Forssell said on Friday.

Forssell, who discussed the India-EU FTA with commerce minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday, said a trade deal “based on trust and friendship” will be a priority for the Swedish presidency of the 27-member bloc. He said there were also synergies between the EU presidency and India’s presidency of the G20 next year.

“We are looking for an agreement that is in everyone’s interest. There must be discussions and flexibility but this is one of the areas where we could cooperate during the Swedish presidency [of the EU],” he said. “The growth story of India has only just begun and Sweden wants to be part of it.”

Sweden will act as an “honest broker” and do its best to assist in the negotiations for the FTA. “This is also based on trust, you can’t have it my way or the highway. You need to listen to all sides and you need to see what the obstacles are and then have an open discussion on that,” Forssell said.

Noting that negotiations for an FTA between the EU and a smaller country such as New Zealand had taken several years, Forssell said a trade deal with a larger country such as India involved more complex issues. “Just imagine the [number] of different questions – I’m not saying problems – [involved] in an FTA with India. It takes some time, I think that is the main obstacle,” he said.

Forssell said he did not anticipate the FTA being concluded in 2023. “To be honest, I do not think such an agreement could be finalised and signed during the Swedish presidency…But we will try to give it a push forward and perhaps for the next presidency to finalise,” he said.

India’s negotiations with the EU were revived in June after a gap of almost a decade and cover three agreements on trade, investments and geographical indicators. The third round of the India-EU trade negotiations were held from November 28 to December 9.

Forssell said it is also in India’s interest to lower tariffs and boost trade in order to create jobs and attract more investments. Swedish companies too are interested in investing in India in sectors such as infrastructure, green transition, health and medical technology, said Forssell, who was accompanied to India by a delegation that included the heads of SAAB and SEB, the leading Nordic financial services group.

India’s decision to continue buying Russian crude amid the Ukraine crisis is part of “domestic policies”, Forssell said. “I have not come here to tell you what to do. The war has affected Europe in many ways, especially in the energy situation. Every country must make their own decisions and I totally agree with Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi saying that this is no time for war,” he said.

“We very much hope for the war to end and hopefully very soon because there are no winners here. The situation in Ukraine is terrible. Having a war in the middle of Europe today is a disaster, a catastrophe.”

Forssell described China as a partner and a growing market for Europe, but also a “rival and competitor”. He added, “I find the relationship between Sweden and India to be based on trust and there is a very positive view of India in Sweden…That also goes in the other direction.”

Source: Hindustan Times