The European Union (EU) and India have resumed trade talks after an eight-year hiatus as the bloc's relationship with China continues to cool. The talks, which aim to strengthen economic ties and establish a joint comprehensive trade agreement by the end of 2023, are the latest in a series of efforts by Brussels to upgrade ties with India.
"For the European Union, the partnership with India is one of the most important relationships for the upcoming decade", said EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis last week, while the Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said the talks represented "a partnership for world trade in the 21st century", reports South China Morning Post.
By comparison, the EU and China have been unable to fix a date for high-level economic talks which were due to take place last month. EU sources said their requests to Beijing had gone unanswered.
EU-India trade talks have always proved difficult - they stalled in 2013 over differences on Indian tariffs and EU visa policies for Indian skilled workers - but Garima Mohan, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund's Asia programme, said the relationship was now "very mature".
"In the past, one single incident used to take the whole partnership hostage. For example when the Italian marines case happened in 2012 ... EU-India summits were suspended for a period of four years," she said, referring to an incident off the coast of Kerala where two Indian fishermen were shot dead by Italian marines on board an oil tanker.
"But now there is a sign of maturity and growth in the relationship, and both sides are very eager to make sure that any differences do not overshadow the convergences they have to work together," Mohan further said, adding that EU was prioritising its ties with India despite the latter's failure to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"There has been considerable pressure on New Delhi from the EU, to explain its position and its stance," Mohan added.
"Delhi has been able to communicate and convince the Europeans that it is actually in a difficult geopolitical neighbourhood. But behind closed doors, the Indian prime minister has made calls to President Putin and President Zelensky and constantly communicated with the Europeans as to what India's position is. This also explains why India has not taken that big of a hit compared to China, which has been quite obstinate and open in its differences with Europe."
New Delhi also enjoyed the red carpet treatment at the World Trade Organization ministerial talks in June, where it was widely seen as the big winner from crunch talks on fisheries, vaccine waivers and food security.
An EU-China summit in April yielded no deliverables by comparison, with EU leaders focused on criticising Beijing over its stance on Russia and human rights, as well as its trade practices. However, in recent weeks, leaders from EU member states have made more conciliatory remarks towards China, which remains the bloc's largest trade partner while India is only tenth on the list.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte last weekend warned against resetting trade ties over human rights, while Belgian counterpart Alexander de Croo warned against lumping China into the same geopolitical basket as Russia.
Germany is the largest EU trading partner for both China and India, but Beijing's zero-Covid strategy has damaged it in German eyes.