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‘Indo-US trade below its potential’

Amid bilateral trade tensions, USIBC President Nisha Biswal said on Thursday that the trade between India and the US is much below than its potential, and both the sides should ease restrictions and put in an “overarching” framework.

Biswal, a former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, is leading a delegation of the US-India Business Council (USIBC) at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit (VGS) which will begin on Friday. The US, which was a partner country for two earlier editions of the biennial investor summit, refused to be a partner this year, citing pending bilateral trade disputes.

The biggest challenge to US-India trade relations is that we have not done the hard work of creating an overarching framework for trade, Biswal, who was born and brought up in Dahod in Gujarat, told PTI in an interview.

We do not have a trade agreement, we do not have an investment treaty, we do not even have a mini agreement, she said, adding that every time the two countries negotiate, it is highly transactional and there is no real incentive to compromise.

India announced retaliatory tariffs on 29 US products six months ago after US President Donald Trump imposed heavy tariffs on imported steel and aluminium items. However, despite the announcement, India is the only major country which has been postponing the implementation of retaliatory tariffs.

What, I think, the two governments have sought to do in the last few months is to take a small basket of issues that have been irritants and tried to resolve those so that it could become a kind of mini-agreement. The issues included tariffs on steel and aluminium from Indian side and from the US side it was tariffs on ICT and the policy of price control on medical devices. Both sides wanted more market access for some of their products, Biswal said.

Unfortunately they have not been able to get a conclusion on that thing. Our hope was that the two governments will sit together and decide this issue. The two countries should rather create a much more ambitious framework of trade, she said, adding that we should be best trading partners. While US-India trade continues to grow, it is no where near to the potential of what it should be. And that really requires both sides to take significant steps to ease restrictions or access to flow of investments and flow of trade in both directions. Around 500 US companies have significant business relations with India, against 6,000 to 7,000 US companies doing serious business with China.

Asked if the US decided not to be a partner for the VGS due to trade disputes, she said that, I can’t speak for the US government, but I can say that there have been some disappointments that these issues have not been resolved.

US Consul General in Mumbai Edgard Kagan, when asked about his country’s refusal to be one of the partner countries, had said that the Indian government needed to resolve the outstanding trade issues first.

Biswal, however, asserted that the US government and industry continue to prioritise India as very important trade and economic partner. The bilateral trade was USD 20 billion in 1980s, which grew to USD 100 billion in 2014-15, and now the target is to take it to USD 500 billion.

The USIBC has prepared a report, ‘India at 75’, with KPMG which will be released on Friday. The report outlines that the areas where the two countries can cooperate to take trade ties to the next level.


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