Brussels’ free trade negotiations chairman says no stone is being left unturned as a more level playing field is sought for automakers in opening access to challenging markets, particularly India.

Addressing deleages at this year’s CLEPA aftermarket conference in the Belgian capital, the director of DG Trade and negotiations chairman for FTA India and South Korea, Garcia Bercero, outlined the work the European Commission (EC) was doing on behalf of the automotive industry.

“We started negoations with Korea, with India and Asean [countries] and our policy has delivered a free trade agreement [FTA] with Korea from 1 July this year,” said Bercero. “I would say the indications are this has generated new opportunities for exports.

“We are taking those opportunities in [our] stride – this was controversial. There were some difficult decisions in the council and European Parliament . I am not going to say Korea has been the easy part, but it was much easier than some of the other negotiations in which we are currently engaged in the region.”

Bercero added that although progress had been made with ASEAN countries on a region by region basis, he remained “relatively confident” an FTA would be struck with Singapore next year.

Other countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand and India, were “subjected to different kinds of pressure,” he said, although discussions continued to take place with them. Nonetheless, following the securing of Korea’s FTA signature, it appears Japan is very much seeking a similar deal.

“There is clearly a political determination from the Japanese side,” he said.

The FTA chairman highlighted the crucial impact of India in talks, citing its massive expansion possibilities.

“Probably with those negotiations, it is both in economic and strategic terms the most important one,” he said. “It has enormous growth potential and [is] a protected market with tarrifs.

“This is an enormous opportunity for Europe, it would be a game changer. It would be the strongest possible signal that Europe is a strong player in Asia.”

There still remain “extremely sensitive issues however, with India, said Bercero, although he did not elaborate what these were.

The commission is working with India ahead of next year’s European Union-India summit, although the FTA chairman conceded he would be only in a position only to recommend an agreement to member states if it was of a sufficiently high level.

“The message I want to pass on is we are quite determined and we are deploying all our efforts to get as good a deal as possible for your [auto] sector,” he said.