India and U.S. resolve to fix trade tangles, take economic ties to ‘next level’

Indian grapes, pomegranates, US cherries and pork could be early winners as India-US trade forum revives after four-year gap.

The United States and India committed to integrating their economies across sectors to harness the untapped potential of the bilateral relationship, at the Trade Policy Forum convened after a gap of four years on Tuesday.

Co-chaired by Commerce and Industry, Textiles, Consumer Affairs and Food & Public Distribution Minister Piyush Goyal and U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai, the Forum resolved to take economic ties between the two countries to the ‘next high level’ and exchanged views on ‘potential targeted tariff reductions’.

The two sides decided to activate working groups of the Trade Policy Forum (TPF) on agriculture, non-agriculture goods, services, investment, and intellectual property to meet frequently and address issues of mutual concern in a mutually beneficial manner. The idea is to deliver tangible benefits to farmers and businesses of both countries by resolving outstanding market access issues.

Specifically, the Forum has decided to forge an agreement to facilitate U.S. market access for mangoes, grapes, and pomegranates, pomegranate arils from India, and reciprocate with similar access in the Indian market to cherries, pork/pork products and alfalfa hay for animal feed from the United States.

Discussions will also be held on enhancing market access for products such as distillers’ dried grains with solubles from the U.S. and resolving market access concerns for water buffalo meat and wild caught shrimp from India.

The Indian side has sought restoration of the GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) benefits by the US and said this would help industries from both sides in integrating their supply chain efficiently. The United States noted it ‘for suitable consideration’, an official statement said.

The Forum also agreed on the significance of negotiating a Social Security Totalisation Agreement in the interest of workers from both sides, and pursuing further engagements for reaching such an agreement.

The totalisation agreement, being pursued for over a decade, would allow workers from both countries to move their retirement savings, the lack of which particularly affects Indian IT workers in the US who lose billions of dollars in statutory US social security contributions that they cannot repatriate home.

With the WTO ministerial meeting coming up next week, India and the US also discussed collaboration and constructive engagement in various multilateral trade bodies including the WTO and the G20 for achieving a shared vision of a transparent, rules-based global trading system among market economies and democracies. The Forum also decided to find mutually agreed solutions on outstanding WTO disputes between the two countries.

Ms. Tai and Mr. Goyal directed the TPF working groups to develop plans of action for making substantive progress by March 2022, which would include identifying specific trade outcomes that could be finalised for an inter-sessional TPF meeting to be held by mid-2022.

The U.S. indicated an interest in supplying ethanol to India for its goal of 20% ethanol blending with petrol by 2025, while the two sides decided to partner with allies in developing a secure pharmaceutical manufacturing base and de-risk global supply chains in such critical sectors like health.

On the services front, the Forum discussed ways in which legal, nursing and accountancy services can facilitate growth in trade and investment, and sought to work together on electronic payment services and the digital economy.

While India welcomed the recent decision by the U.S. to permit fully vaccinated Indians to travel there, the two sides decided to continue engaging on visa issues to facilitate the movement of professionals, skilled workers, experts, and scientific personnel.

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