EU's von der Leyen says hopes for "ambitious" free trade pact with India


By Neha Arora

NEW DELHI, July 15 (Reuters) - The European Union seeks an "ambitious" free trade deal with India though "there is still a way to go", European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

"But, with this high level trade and investment dialogue, we hope to advance things and to promote our common interest in moving forward towards a free trade agreement," von der Leyen, who was speaking from Brussels, told reporters at an EU-India summit held via video-conference.

"It needs to include our usual requirements in terms of market access, public procurement and, of course, sustainable development. So there is still a way to go," she said.

Negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement between the EU and India were suspended in 2013 after six years.

Last week, India's trade minister said it had begun new trade talks with the EU and was open to dialogue with ex-EU member Britain on a separate deal, underlining how Asia's third largest economy is seeking new markets for its products.

Von der Leyen spelled out EU priorities: "Avoiding market access barriers and ensuring fair and transparent competition remains essential. We raised that topic too."

The United States has repeatedly called out India for imposing high tariffs and stringent e-commerce investment rules that have hindered progress on a trade deal despite the countries' close alignment on political and security issues.

Officials in New Delhi said last month there were plans to impose barriers such as higher duties on trade with China and some other countries to protect local businesses in line with the prime minister's recently announced self-reliance campaign.

Von der Leyen said India and the EU would also hold a joint climate dialogue on solar and offshore wind resources. "We raised with (the Indian prime minister) of course the fact that this means making tough choices, such as phasing out of coal."

Last month Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an auction of 41 coal mines and said he wanted India, with the world's fourth largest coal reserves, to be a net exporter of coal.

(Reporting by Neha Arora in NEW DELHI; Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in MUMBAI Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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