US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. (Bloomberg)
US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. (Bloomberg)

India, US stress on regular talks to ease trade tension

  • US commerce secretary meets Prabhu and Jaitley, says can’t ensure cheaper oil to India
  • Both sides express satisfaction over the progress made between the strategic partners

NEW DELHI : India and the US on Monday agreed to deepen economic cooperation and resolve outstanding issues through regular official engagements in a meeting between commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and trade minister Suresh Prabhu. The development is important given recent rising trade tensions between the two countries.

“Both sides also discussed various outstanding trade issues. Both sides agreed to engage regularly at various levels to resolve outstanding trade issues by exploring suitable solutions, which are mutually beneficial and promote economic development and prosperity in both countries," India’s commerce ministry said.

A trade official said the first high-level meeting after the US decided to withdraw duty-free benefits to Indian exporters under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme in March, was “amicable". “The two sides discussed issues such as e-commerce, intellectual property rights, medical devices, data localisation, personal data protection, ground handling of foreign airlines and tariffs on export of steel and aluminium among others. The issue of GSP did not come up as it does not come under the ambit of US commerce secretary," the official said.

Ross, who is on a two-day visit to India to attend Trade Winds, the annual trade mission programme of the US department of commerce in which over 100 American businesses participate, also met finance minister Arun Jaitley on Monday.

After his meeting with Jaitley, Ross told reporters that the US cannot ensure supply of cheaper oil to India in the wake of sanctions on Iran as the commodity is controlled by private companies.

“Oil is owned by private people so the government cannot force people to make concessionary prices," Ross told reporters, when asked if the US is considering selling oil to India at concessional rates to make up for the loss of Iranian oil supply.

The US has not extended the exemption from its sanctions against Iran granted to countries like India starting 2 May to buy crude oil, leading to a jump in global oil prices.

While the surprise change in India’s e-commerce FDI policy ahead of general elections caught US companies Walmart and Amazon off-guard, stringent norms for data protection and data localisation proposed under the draft e-commerce policy further upset the US government.

India last week further delayed implementation of its June 2018 order to impose retaliatory tariffs on 29 US products by 14 days till 16 May as it awaits a final word from the US on its decision to withdraw GSP benefits.

Trump has often pointed to the bilateral trade surplus India enjoys, claiming that New Delhi prohibits US exports through higher tariffs. He has often raised the issue of higher tariffs imposed by India on Harley-Davidson motorcycles and has threatened to slap reciprocal taxes on Indian bikes.


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