EU’s Global Gateway to be key part of new economic corridor IMEC: Ugo Astuto

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NEW DELHI: The European Union’s Global Gateway strategy for boosting clean and secure links in the digital, energy and transport spheres is set to be part of the ambitious India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) that will create a network of railways and ports, EU ambassador Ugo Astuto said on Tuesday. In an interview ahead of completing his tenure in New Delhi, Astuto said that collaboration between India and the EU for a coordinated European naval presence in the Indo-Pacific is set to grow to ensure that the region remains free and open. 

I think I was privileged to serve in India with the EU in the past four years because, in this period, we have seen enormous progress in our strategic partnership. Let’s start with the India-EU summit in 2021 in Porto, which was an extraordinary summit because you had all the member states meeting the Indian prime minister, and there we had the momentous decision to restart the free trade agreement (FTA) talks. Another landmark was the visit of European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen in 2022 and the very significant decision to start the Trade and Technology Council (TTC). The only other one we have in place is with the US. That’s a clear element of the level of maturity of our relationship.

Then there was the G20 Summit and the decision on its margins to launch the India- Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor together with the US. So, if you look at this, you see a partnership which is going from strength to strength and it’s also broader. Yes, we have the economic dimension, we also have the political dimension and then we have a dimension which is very important to India and the others – which is how to address global challenges like climate change and digital transition. On climate change, we start from the same assumption that we need to work with a sense of urgency, we need to adopt measures now if we want to avoid catastrophic consequences amid increasing global warming that goes beyond the 1.5 degrees.

Also, at the G20, the commitment made to invest in renewables, that’s a very positive step. Clearly, it’s never enough. It’s important we work more on mitigation and on reducing emissions, With India, we definitely start from the same proposition which is important. On the digital transition, we share the same views that we need to promote innovation and preserve competition, but we also must act in a way that protects the rights and freedoms of our citizens. For instance, when it comes to data protection.

What I’ve seen in the past four years is a renewed awareness on both sides that it’s not just that we must, but we can work together pretty well. I was told that the conversation in the Trade and Technology Council very much mirrored this new awareness.

It’s a complex negotiation. We are aiming at an ambitious and comprehensive FTA and there are bound to be issues. But what I see is that we have had five rounds of talks so far. We have had progress. We had a very positive interaction between European Commission executive vice president Vladis Dombrovskis and commerce minister Piyush Goyal during his recent visit to India for a G20 meeting and then the high-level economic dialogue with Goyal. What struck me was the positive atmosphere during the discussions. We share the same determination to overcome problems. So, I think that both teams are consistently working to achieve a positive outcome.

CBAM is not a trade measure, it’s about the environment. It’s about respecting our Paris Accord commitments. We want to bring emissions down and the way to do that is to put a pricing on carbon emissions. But if we do that in Europe and if our high emitters move abroad, the overall global result does not change and we don’t achieve our objective. That’s the purpose of CBAM. We have set it in a way to limit it to the higher emitting industries such as cement and we have a transition period. For the next two years, there will be no levy, so that we can have an open conversation with our partners to see how best we can address any contentious issues. I’ve followed the discussion here in India about the creation of an emission trading system in India, and I think when that is in place, we will see that the actual impact of CBAM will be limited.

I’ll refer to our common objective, which is how do we reduce emissions. We also need a greener energy mix, and green hydrogen is very much part of the picture. The European commissioner for energy, Kadri Simpson, was here around a year ago for an event with her counterparts and the minister for new and renewable energy on green hydrogen. It also brought together the industry from India and the EU. Then she was back during the G20 and had additional conversations, and from there, I think we are in the process where we are looking at concrete deliverables, where we can work together on green hydrogen. India has an ambition to become a major exporter of green hydrogen. We also have put the spotlight on green hydrogen as one of the future necessary dimensions of our energy mix. I think there will be a meeting of our objectives, which is in the making.

The TTC discusses the nexus of trade and technology and in the first edition, I understand that in the ministerial segment, the focus was on the resilience of supply chains and on green technology. I think we are in a rather advanced phase when it comes to a memorandum of understanding on semiconductors. That’s the first example of what we can do together and this is obviously relevant when it comes to resilience of supply chains.

On the IMEC, yes, Global Gateway is very much a piece of the puzzle. Global Gateway is about investing in sustainable infrastructure and we have set aside 300 billion euros for the period 2021-2027, and the purpose and objectives of this corridor chime perfectly with Global Gateway. So, the answer is yes indeed.

The conceptual framework of Global Gateway is that we need to bring together the EU financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the individual financial institutions of EU member states and private capital, and by bringing them all together, achieve the critical mass we need for meaningful infrastructure. It’s not just about public funds, but also about private funds and working together for transparent, sustainable, inclusive infrastructure that responds to the actual needs of the people.

I would highlight a number of very important facts and principles in the text. The text is asking for just and durable peace in line with the UN Charter. The text calls for respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. It says the threat of the use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible. It calls for the Black Sea Grain Initiative to be made operational. I think these are very important points reflected in the text. Let’s remember this is a text that has been subscribed to by the whole membership of the G20.

How are the EU’s plans to have a naval presence in the Indo-Pacific progressing? How can India and the EU work to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open, especially at a time when we are seeing China’s assertiveness in territorial disputes with the Philippines and Japan?

India and the EU share a pretty similar vision of the future of the region, and we want the region to be prosperous and stable and be underpinned by respect for international law and the UN Charter. That’s where we can work together, and we are working together. This means a holistic approach. It’s not just security, it’s the economy, it’s working for economic development. It’s about climate change and the digital transition, that’s also relevant when it comes to the Indo-Pacific.

You mentioned the security dimension and there, I would like to refer to a new concept, which is a coordinated maritime presence. It’s a new concept whereby the naval assets of individual member states can act in a specific region in a coordinated fashion. I think that’s significant in terms of the added value that you can bring in terms of coordination and creating critical mass. India is very much part of the picture. For instance, look at the frequency of port calls by European naval assets. Most recently it was an Italian Navy ship, Morosini, that was in Mumbai. There was also a seminar devoted to the European visit of a coordinated maritime presence. But it’s not the only example. Last year, there was a German frigate, the French are regular visitors. You also see the Indian Navy and EU assets undertaking joint exercises more and more. I suspect we’ll see more of that.