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NEW DELHI : India on Tuesday publicly urged the US to restore duty-free export benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) even as both countries agreed to allow market access for mangoes and pomegranates arils from India and cherries and alfalfa hay from the US.

The US had in June 2019 withdrawn GSP benefits from India that allows duty-free entry of nearly 2,000 products worth $6 billion from India into the US, benefitting exporters of textiles, engineering, gems and jewellery and chemical products. Trade minister Piyush Goyal in 2019 had said India accepts the decision of the US to withdraw duty-free benefits to its exporters gracefully as India is no more an underdeveloped country.

In a joint statement after the Trade Policy Forum meeting co-chaired by India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal and United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai, both sides projected bilateral merchandise trade in 2021 to surpass the $100 billion mark. The TPF meeting was held after a gap of four years and both sides directed the TPF working groups to develop plans of action for making substantive progress by March 2022 so that a set of specific trade outcomes could be finalized in an inter-sessional TPF meeting to be held by mid-2022.

“The Ministers reviewed their particular interests for achieving progress in the area of market access. In this regard, India highlighted its interest in restoration of its beneficiary status under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences program; the United States noted that this could be considered, as warranted, in relation to the eligibility criteria determined by the U.S. Congress. The United States and India also exchanged views on potential targeted tariff reductions," the joint statement said.

The US side said it intends to finalize regulatory oversight of irradiation for mangoes and pomegranates to Indian authorities as soon as is practicable. “The United States and India also look forward to signing the Systems Approach Operational Work Plan for the export of pomegranate arils from India to the United States. India intends to finalize phyto-sanitary work to allow the importation of U.S. cherries, and India intends to finalize the phyto-sanitary certification which will allow the importation of U.S. alfalfa hay for animal feed into India," the statement said.

In addition, the U.S. agreed to work to complete India’s request for table grapes access to the United States, and India agreed to work to finalize the mutually agreed export certificate to allow the importation of U.S. pork and pork products. “The Ministers agreed to follow up on exploring the possibility of enhanced market access for additional identified agricultural products. They also agreed to engage on U.S. concerns regarding regulatory approvals for the Distillers’ Dried Grains with Solubles, and India’s concerns regarding market access for water buffalo meat and restoration of market access for wild caught shrimp," the joint statement said.

The long-pending issues of high visa fees and totalisation agreement also came up for discussion. “The United States and India decided to continue their engagement on visa issues, and their shared resolve to facilitate the movement of professionals, skilled workers, experts, and scientific personnel. The Ministers acknowledged the ongoing discussions on a Social Security Totalization Agreement and welcomed further engagement on pursuing such an agreement," the statement said.

Though the contentious issue of digital trade cropped up, both sides seem to have not made any significant progress on that front. “The Ministers exchanged views on harnessing the vast potential of digital trade to spur economic growth and innovation, and committed to work together to build common understanding, and increase engagement both bilaterally, including in the TPF and ICT Working Group, and in relevant multilateral fora, including the G20 and WTO. They pledged to deepen bilateral engagement to promote the digital economy, and to explore the adoption of joint principles that ensure that the internet remains open for free exchange of ideas, goods, and services," the statement added.

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