US presses India on Doha trade talks

US presses India on Doha trade talks

Washington: A top US official on Monday urged India and other large emerging economies to rescue the eight-year-old Doha round of world trade talks by making better offers to open their markets to American goods.

The talks aim to help poor countries prosper through trade, but the United States complains current proposals require it to make politically painful cuts in agricultural subsidies and manufacturing tariffs without getting substantial new export opportunities in return.

“The question on the table is whether India, as well as the other major emerging markets, will do what it takes to achieve the greater level of ambition that is necessary to make the Doha agreement feasible," Michael Froman, deputy White House national security adviser, said in a speech at the US-India High Technology Cooperation Group meeting.

Many other World Trade Organization (WTO) members blame the current impasse in the negotiations on the US.

But Froman said the fate of the long-running round is “in largely the hands of India, the other major emerging economies. We look forward to working with them to see if we can bring Doha to a successful conclusion."

“President Obama has made it clear he’d like an ambitious balanced Doha agreement. One that actually increases access for American products, manufactured products, agriculture products and services," Froman said.

“We need to have meaningful market access if we’re going to be able to conclude an agreement that will achieve the approval of Congress," he added, echoing the line in the talks taken by Obama’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

Last year, Obama, India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders of the Group of 20 rich and emerging countries set a goal of finishing the Doha round by the end of 2010. Without a major breakthrough soon, it will be yet another missed deadline.

Negotiators will hold a “stock-taking meeting" in Geneva at the end of the month to discuss next steps.

“Our expectation is coming out of the stocktaking there will be a series of meetings scheduled over the next several months," Froman said.

Eyes nuclear sale

India commerce minister Anand Sharma and US trade representative Ron Kirk also will sign a framework agreement this week to strengthen bilateral trade and investment ties.

Froman also said he was optimistic that the two countries would soon “be able to celebrate the first new US nuclear reactor built in India."

However, India’s government earlier on Monday bowed to political pressure from opposition parties and at least temporarily shelved a bill to limit the liability of nuclear firms in case of industrial accidents.

The move is expected to delay the entry of US firms into India’s $150 billion nuclear market.

India has offered to tender construction of two nuclear plants, a business opportunity worth $10 billion, to US-based firms such as General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Co., a subsidiary of Japan’s Toshiba Corp.

Froman noted Singh will attend the US-hosted Global Nuclear Security summit next month to discuss how to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Obama will visit India later this year, he said.