EU, India agree to step up terrorism fight after Brussels attacks

India and the European Union agreed Wednesday to step up the fight against terrorism, during a visit to Brussels by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the week after suicide bombings killed more than 30 people in the Belgian capital.

Modi's meeting with EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker - for the first time since 2012 - aimed to boost relations and bring new momentum to stalled trade talks, with ties strained by a diplomatic row between Italy and India.

Ahead of their talks, Modi visited the Maelbeek subway station - one of the sites hit in last week's bombings - and laid a wreath in memory of the 32 victims killed in the attacks there and at the Brussels airport. One Indian national was among the dead.

"Having experienced terrorist violence ourselves on countless occasions, we share your pain," Modi later told Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. "In this time of crisis, the whole of India stands in full support and solidarity with the Belgian people."

Modi, Tusk and Juncker "strongly condemned" the Brussels attacks and terrorist violence in other parts of the world, and reaffirmed their "determination to jointly combat terrorism in all its forms."

They agreed in a joint declaration to step up cooperation to counter extremism and radicalization, stem the flow of foreign fighters who can return to their home countries radicalized and dangerous, and curb sources of terrorist financing and arms supplies.

The leaders touched on the negotiations toward an EU-India Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement, which started in 2007 but have stalled since 2013. Their joint statement merely welcomed efforts to resume the talks, with no indication of when this might happen.

Key sticking points in the trade talks include European demands that India remove tariffs on cars and car parts, wine and spirits. The EU is India's largest trading partner.

EU exports to India totalled just over 38 billion euros (42.6 billion dollars) in 2015, while Indian imports to the bloc reached almost 40 billion dollars, according to data released Wednesday by the EU statistics agency Eurostat.

Ahead of the talks, the influential Federation of German Industries called for movement in the free trade talks.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Modi should not make trade concessions that could impact India's production of generic medicines, which tend to be far cheaper than brands marketed by large pharmaceuticals.

"India is an important source for affordable, life-saving generics, upon which the lives of millions of people across the world depend," said Joanne Liu of MSF. "Any strike against this pharmacy of the poor would have catastrophic consequences."

Wednesday's summit was seen as an opportunity to patch up relations after a row with EU member state Italy over the trial of two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of India in 2012.

Rome says the incident took place in international waters and India has no jurisdiction in the case, while India says it took place within its jurisdiction and the men should be tried in India.

The United Nations' International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has been called on to settle the jurisdiction row. On Wednesday, the court was hearing a request from Italy to allow one of its marines still held in India to be allowed to return home.

The leaders expressed "confidence" in the UN arbitration procedure, noting in their joint statement that "the EU shares Italy's concerns to find an expeditious solution for the prolonged restriction of liberty of the two Marines."

"India stressed the need for rendering due justice for the families of the Indian fishermen who were killed," the statement said.

Following his Brussels visit, Modi is set to participate in the fourth Nuclear Security Summit on Thursday and Friday in Washington, before travelling Saturday to the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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