Home/ Politics / Policy/  India, US seek to improve trade ties, but fail to spell out targets

New Delhi: India and the US on Tuesday laid out a work programme for the next one year to improve trade ties as they concluded the first ministerial level Trade Policy Forum meeting in four years, but failed to spell out substantive targets in getting there.

In a joint statement after the meeting, co-chaired by trade minister Nirmala Sitharaman and US trade representative (USTR) Michael Froman, the two sides signalled their readiness to enhance bilateral trade and investment ties in a manner that promotes economic growth and job creation in both India and the US.

Froman told journalists the meeting had been “very productive" both in terms of laying out in some greater detail the collective perspective on these issues. They also agreed to a series of work plans that will take both sides through the next year, he said. The USTR said both sides had three video conferences in last two years and as per the various work plans laid out on Tuesday, the two sides will have 20 video conferences and meetings over the next year.

On the contentious issue of intellectual property rights (IPR), Froman said the issue was discussed in broad terms and pertained to areas of mutual interest such as copyrights and piracy.

“On more challenging issues like pharmaceuticals, we need to take a broad-based view. The issue of access to affordable medicines is an issue that takes a number of different factors, not just IPR. We would like to engage in broader dialogue about how to achieve affordable access to quality healthcare," he said.

“The United States agreed to facilitate further engagement in this field between the experts of both countries," the statement said. Froman said that the issue of out-of-cycle review of India’s IPR policy currently being undertaken by the US was not discussed during the meeting.

The India-US Trade Policy Forum, established in July 2005, is a platform for discussions on trade and investment issues. The issues and concerns are discussed under focus groups. The dialogue addresses a wide range of issues that will lead to initiatives in key sectors and create momentum for expanding bilateral trade. A Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) was formed in April 2007 as an adjunct to the forum to provide it with inputs from non-government trade and investment experts.

Froman said the Indian side raised its concerns and interests in expanding the availability of visas to the US as well as its concerns about elements of the draft law that it considers discriminatory against certain business models. “We took note of their concerns and drew their attention to the recent executive order that the president issues that lays out a process of clarifying issues around L1 visas as well as flexibilities around H1B visas. The President also noted in his remarks on these issues that ultimately the reform of our immigration visa system requires legislation and the US Congress to adopt the legislation," he said.

Both L1 and H1B visas are issued to skilled personnel.

Both countries stressed the importance of providing a transparent and predictable policy environment to help attract investments in manufacturing. “In this regard, Minister Sitharaman and Ambassador Froman agreed to exchange information on stakeholder participation in the framing of trade and investment policies and procedures, and to discuss best practices," the joint statement read.

Froman said the US wants to see concrete improvements in things like the business environment, ease of doing business in India if it wants to attract the significant foreign investments. “We have seen increase in tariffs on certain information communication technology products. Our hope is that India will continue in its tradition of reducing tariffs to help further open up its economy," he added.

On the contentious issue of higher standards of labelling mandated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India on imported food items, the US raised its concerns.

Sitharaman and Froman agreed to exchange information on international standards and systems of acceptance of conformity assessment procedures with specific focus on understanding each governments’ procedures for testing, packaging, and labelling requirements.

Froman said both sides took some steps forward in certain areas like labelling and stickering of products. “It’s a robust work programme. I don’t want to prejudge at this point whether there might be deliverables coming out of that work programme," he added.

India and the US agreed to establish a new technical dialogue that will promote cooperation on plant health, animal health, and food safety issues in a manner that facilitates the movement of agricultural goods between the two countries.

“They agreed to work towards facilitating agricultural trade between the two countries by engaging with each other closely with the intent of establishing science- and risk-based regulations and procedures that conform to international standards and guidelines..," the joint statement said.

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Updated: 26 Nov 2014, 01:12 PM IST
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