US officials gear up to push trade agenda set at Modi-Trump meet
New Delhi: The ink is hardly dry on the India-US joint statement but the two countries are getting down to grappling with some of the issues mentioned in the document that largely demonstrate a continuity of policy despite a change in administration in the US, people familiar with the development say.
Senior officials from the US trade department are expected in India in the next few weeks—maybe even as early as 3 July—to take forward the agenda set by US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who met for their first face-to-face talks in Washington on Monday.
US energy secretary Rick Perry could be in India in October to flesh out energy cooperation, also mentioned in the joint statement, a person familiar with the development said.
According to the joint statement, the two countries “resolved to pursue increased commercial engagement in a manner that advances the principles of free and fair trade.”
“To this end, the United States and India plan to undertake a comprehensive review of trade relations with the goal of expediting regulatory processes; ensuring that technology and innovation are appropriately fostered, valued, and protected; and increasing market access in areas such as agriculture, information technology, and manufactured goods and services....They called on their teams to find creative ways to improve bilateral trade,” the statement said.
Another person close to the matter said trade was an issue on which both sides had differences prior to Modi’s visit to the US. A second person close to the development said “the mandate that we got from the two leaders (Trump and Modi) is to drill down on the issues that inhibit trade. The US is India’s largest export market by far... there are some US products however that could benefit” from India opening up its market.
Specific items the US is seeking market access for include poultry products, medical devices such as cardiac stents and pacemakers besides information technology equipment like routers, servers, storage devices and semi conductors, the second person cited above said.
Trade and commercial ties were seen as contentious issues in India-US relations that had seemingly flagged after Trump took office on 20 January. This came in the backdrop of Trump flagging fair trade narrowing deficits and putting curbs on immigration with an emphasis on US jobs for Americans besides ensuring American businesses invest at home in a bid to revive the economy.
Bilateral trade between India and the US is at $115 billion with a balance of $30.9 billion in India’s favour.
On the energy front, a third person familiar with the matter noted that the joint statement contained quite a few paragraphs on energy cooperation. The US was willing to look at setting up smart grids and energy storage systems besides clean fuel technologies, the third person said.
On civil nuclear cooperation, the third person said Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd , that operates atomic power plants in India, and American company Westinghouse Electric Co. would have to renegotiate a techno-commercial pact agreed to some years ago to build six nuclear power units in Andhra Pradesh under a deal worth some $20 billion. This was because Westinghouse was a unit of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corp, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
“The technology, scale and scope of the project does not change but we do need to make adjustments on who does what. With Westinghouse no longer into construction of nuclear power plants, we have to see how we realise the project,” the third person said, adding that a new deal could be worked out by early next year.