New Delhi: Indian exports up to $5.6 billion could be hit as the US pressures India for greater market access by declaring a review of the generalized system of preferences (GSP) through which Indian exporters get preferential market access to the US.
The GSP programme allows duty-free entry of 3,500 products from India, which benefits exporters of textiles, engineering, gems and jewellery and chemical products. The total US imports under GSP in 2017 was $21.2 billion, of which India was the biggest beneficiary with $5.6 billion, followed by Thailand ($4.2 billion) and Brazil ($2.5 billion).
The Trump administration has been accusing India of unfair trade practices and has challenged most of its export subsidies at the World Trade Organization (WTO). It has also not granted India an exemption on unilateral hike in steel and aluminium tariffs, unlike to its other strategic allies. On Friday, the US treasury department added India to the currency practices watch list saying New Delhi increased its purchase of foreign exchange by $56 billion in 2017 which does not appear necessary given its already robust foreign exchange reserves.
The US Trade Representative (USTR) on Friday announced that it is reviewing the GSP eligibility of India, along with Indonesia and Kazakhstan, based on concerns about the countries’ compliance with the programme.
For India, the GSP country eligibility review is based on concerns by the US dairy industry and medical device industry alleging Indian trade barriers affecting US exports in those sectors. India has very high import duties on dairy products to protect its domestic industry. It has also recently put price controls on medical devices like cardiovascular stents, drawing ire from big US pharma companies.
“India has implemented a wide array of trade barriers that create serious negative effects on US commerce. The acceptance of these petitions and the GSP self-initiated review will result in one overall review of India’s compliance with the GSP market access criterion," USTR said.
A commerce ministry official speaking under condition of anonymity said though India is worried about the move, it hopes a majority of US industries which get cheaper intermediate products from India due to GSP benefits will support continuation of the programme. “We hope it won’t be easy to withdraw GSP benefits to India," he added.
Abhijit Das, head of the Centre for WTO Studies at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, said given Trump’s tendency to take unilateral action, there could be threat to India’s continuous access to GSP. Das said India should be ready to drag the US to dispute settlement if US stops extending GSP to India on the grounds that India is creating market access barriers to the US.
Though GSP is a voluntary measure by the US and other developed countries, they need to be guided by firm WTO principles, Das said. In 2003, India won a case against the European Commission as the latter denied India GSP on textiles and drugs, making such preferences conditional to countries combating drug production and trafficking or protection of labour rights and environment.
However, Ajay Sahai, director general and CEO of the Federation of Indian Export Organizations, said India should not be too jittery about the announcement of a GSP review. “It seems to be a posturing from the US, signalling India that it should not join China in its disputes against the US on steel and aluminium as it wants to bargain hard with China."
“I don’t think the US is reviewing its GSP policy. If on objective and transparent criteria, India graduates on some products, that is still fine. In every GSP review, we lose out on some products, as India becomes competitive and gains greater market share," he added.