EU retailers and importers are hopeful of a swift conclusion to free trade talks between the European Union and India, after the two sides said they aim to sign the pact next year.

Their optimism comes after Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, told delegates at the 11th annual EU/India Summit in Brussels this week that he will “…give a final push to these talks so we can hail an historic agreement when we meet next year in Delhi.”

The EU and India launched negotiations for a trade pact in 2007 but, despite several rounds of talks, the discussions have stalled.

Progress has been marred by objections from India (and to a lesser extent the EU), and a hiatus during the build-up the election in 2009. Although Europe is India’s largest trading partner, many commentators also point to the protectionism that occurs in India with respect to EU companies operating in the domestic market.

“India is fast becoming an important market for our members, both in terms of imports and exports, and a swift conclusion to the troubled negotiations is needed,” comments Jan Eggert, secretary general of the Foreign Trade Association (FTA) which represents EU retailers and importers.

“Our members in the retail and distribution field are particularly discriminated against by the Indian authorities with restrictions placed their operations,” he added, “and so it is essential that the negotiations make progress on the liberalisation of these services.”

Earlier this year Indian apparel exporters said
they expected a free trade agreement with the EU add another US$3bn to the country's textile and clothing exports.