New Delhi: India and the US have resolved the broad contours of the proposed trade package and may announce it after closing the pending gaps, trade minister Piyush Goyal said on Monday.
Speaking at the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, Goyal said by now both sides would have announced the package but for the preoccupation of his counterpart Robert Lighthizer, first with Japan and later with China on trade negotiations.
“Therefore, probably, the finalization of the trade package got a little delayed. But we have almost resolved the broad contours of what we are going to announce. I don’t see any great difficulty in closing the gaps on the first announcement," he added.
Though it was widely expected that a limited trade deal will be announced during the meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump in New York last month, a few niggling issues prevented both sides from making an announcement. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross earlier this month said there was “no structural reason" why there can’t be a trade deal with India quickly.
Goyal said both Ambassador Lighthizer and he understand that there is huge potential still to tap, by negotiating a comprehensive free trade agreement between both sides. “We hopefully will come out with the first set of agreement soon. But we both believe that India and the US should look at a much larger engagement in days ahead, possibly leading to an announcement for a bilateral agreement which will go beyond the mere tinkering that we are doing at present," he added.
Talking about his personal rapport with his US counterpart, Goyal said he hit it off quite well with USTR Lighthizer. “Ambassador Lighthizer is a great guy. I jokingly tell him that he overestimates his own feeling that he is not good to people. He often tells me that I am very mean in my negotiations and you would prefer not to meet me. But when I met him and every time I talk to him, I found him to be a wonderful person," he said.
India’s trade minister said ambassador Lighthizer is holding his hands and helping him understand the intricacies of the complex, complicated trade negotiations. “It’s a great learning experience for me. We are very confident things are on the right track," he added.
Goyal said every trade negotiator has to protect his country’s interest, and Lighthizer is doing a fabulous job for his country. “And that is what I am expected to do for India. As long as both of us understand each other well, I see no problem," he added.
Goyal said his ministry is trying to build a truly single-window mechanism to facilitate large foreign investments into the country. “For example, I am looking at every investments, above may be a $1 billion, $500 million or $100 million, I will get one joint secretary of the government from the ministry or the state where the person is setting up their investment, to literally being the single point contact, who will handhold the whole process, cutting across ministries, bureaucracy in the state and the local body level and reporting directly to us in Delhi. So, we are looking at some innovative solutions to try and make it easier for businesses from around the world to come and engage in India," he added.
The two countries slapped higher tariffs on each other's products earlier this year and the US withdrew a key trade concession to India, but have since been trying to work out a limited pact.