Member countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) expect to sign a free trade agreement with India by early next year, at the conclusion of long-drawn negotiations between the two sides.
Free trade negotiations between the four EFTA states - Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway – and India, started in January 2008, are expected to conclude this year, Swiss ambassador to India Linus Von Castelmur said on Thursday.
A high-powered delegation from the EFTA is in India for the 12th (and hopefully final) round of talks that could begin on Monday.
''There is now a window of opportunity. The talks have taken a long time (five years). I hope the technical agreement will be reached rather soon. The best case is the agreement being a reality early next year,'' Castelmur said.
An FTA would be mutually beneficial for all the countries and, if everything goes well, India will get market access for many goods and services, he said.
FTA negotiators have set an objective of achieving freer trade through a phased reduction of trade tariffs for mutual benefit, following a feasibility study that has been endorsed by the respective governments.
However, several outstanding issues, including data security, access to markets still remain on the table, it is learnt.
Hinting that trade negotiations with India were tardy, Castelmur said China had taken just two years to negotiate and firm up a bilateral agreement with Switzerland.
India's exports to Switzerland recorded an increase in the first six months of calendar 2013 while imports from Switzerland declined in value terms during the period.
Balance of trade, however, continued to be in Switzerland's favour.
The EFTA countries are highly competitive, open economies with a sizeable market and strong per capita purchasing power.
Liechtenstein and Switzerland are established international financial centres and leaders in several industrial sectors including machinery, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
Iceland and Norway excel in industries related to their abundant natural resources, including oil, gas, electricity and fish, and are active in various service sectors.