A free-trade agreement between India and the European Union (EU) has entered its final stage, with negotiators "looking at a possible conclusion" by spring, according to the Indian ambassador to the EU.

EurActiv reported today (18 January) that discussions between the two, which began over five years ago, are approaching the home straight. Part of the agreement is expected to include a marked reduction in the rate of duty on international wine and spirits into India from its current level of 150%.

“This has been a long journey for the negotiations, which is inevitable, given the size of the two partners and the importance of the domestic economies on both sides,” Ambassador Shri Dinkar Khullar told EurActiv earlier this week. Khullar added that the deal will be a broad-based trade and investment agreement, which will cover over 95% of tariff lines.

India and the EU have been negotiating a bilateral free trade and investment agreement (BTIA) since June 2007 and have missed several deadlines to conclude the talks, due to unresolved issues related to market access.

The ambassador noted that “last-minute hitches” remain, but that he expected an outcome at the next EU-India summit, which is expected to take place this spring.

The EU is India’s largest trading partner, accounting for around EUR86bn (US$114.6bn) in trade in goods and services in 2010, EurActiv noted. Germany, Belgium and the UK account for around 60% of exports to India. Meanwhile, India accounts for 2.6% of the EU’s total exports and 2.2% of the EU’s total imports.