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‘India and EU must work towards a free trade pact’

India and the European Union does not have a free trade pact, but that hasn’t stopped one of its member nations from going all out to facilitate trade with India.
Kristian Vanderwaeren, Director-general Administration Customs & Excise, Federal Ministry of Finance for Customs and Excise, Belgium, was in Mumbai on Tuesday to address a workshop on cold chain logistics organised by the Port of Antwerp, underlining the importance Belgium attaches to the smooth flow of trade between the two nations. This the excerpts from the conversation.
Are you pitching for a free trade pact between India and EU?
I regret that until now there is no free trade agreement between the EU and India. And, in a world which is uncertain, with a lot of tension, and given the historical relationship what we as Europe and Great Britain have with India, I found it rather strange why we don’t have a free-trade agreement. So, I’ve been talking to people here and I think it is important that we bring over the message to our politicians that they really should make an effort on a European and Indian level to get to a free-trade agreement. Free trade agreement is important because it creates the framework for a better cooperation.
There is a third reason why I came here. Given the fact there is no free trade agreement, how can we foster and ameliorate cooperation between our countries.
And there, we are looking at India and the Port of Antwerp, how can we foster cooperation between Customs and trade. How we can promote smooth exchange of goods with lesser number of inspections taking place. We already offer a lot of facilitation for export into Antwerp. I would like to look and see companies exporting from here to Belgium and companies exporting from Belgium to India, how together with the Indian Customs we can exchange best practices and move forward together. For that reason, I had discussions with the New Delhi headquarters of the Customs and they were willing to start a discussion and dialogue .
What other areas of cooperation are you looking at with Indian Customs and trade?
Another area where we cooperate with the Indian Customs is the IT platform. Indian Customs is pushing very hard on digitalisation and is investing a lot in scanning infrastructure. There, we are looking to set up a cooperation for exchange of best practices between the Customs authorities of the two countries.
In Europe, free trade or negotiations on free trade are done on a European level, the regulations are European, however the implementation and inspections are done on a national level.
Belgium is trying to proactively come out to help understand the problems Indian exporters are facing, to try and see how best you can resolve them without bending the law. This shows our willingness to facilitate compliant trade to help and to be open and transparent.
How will Brexit impact trade between India and Europe?
Brexit is going to have a huge impact. Now, Britain is part of the Customs Union. There are no Customs formalities for goods coming/going between the United Kingdom and Belgium on the Continent.