India and the US are inching closer towards a limited trade deal with flurry of high level meetings on both sides at a time India is looking for greater trade and strategic ties with the Western countries including European Union and Britain amid its rising tension with China.
Trade minister Piyush Goyal held talks with US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross on Wednesday. Last week, Goyal held discussions with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to tie the loose ends of the long pending limited trade deal under negotiations.
“The principals also conversed on the ongoing India-USA trade discussions and appreciated the substantial progress made by both sides on most of the outstanding issues. There was a desire expressed to conclude this initial limited trade package and recognising the complementarities of the India-USA bilateral trade, (both sides) discussed the possibility of an FTA,” a statement issued by the commerce ministry said.
A limited trade package under negotiations since 2018 is expected to cover tariff-related concessions for US farm products, especially dairy items, pricing of pharmaceutical products such as stents and knee implants, and information and communication technology products. In return for trade-related concessions from India, Washington was supposed to partially restore benefits accorded to Indian exporters under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which was terminated by Trump from 5 June last year. Both sides may also remove the tit-for-tat tariff hikes after the US increased steel and aluminium tariffs on national security grounds.
Speaking at the India-US CEO Forum on Tuesday, Goyal said bilateral ties between India and the US have acquired “extraordinary momentum” driven by strong shared interests in promoting global stability, security and economic prosperity.
Goyal also flagged the long pending proposal for a Totalisation Agreement to secure the social security contributions of professionals from both sides, which had been also discussed during the visit of President Trump to India in February this year. “While appreciating India’s concern, Secretary Ross mentioned that the statutory requirements of U.S. have to be fulfilled by India in this regard. He offered to arrange a meeting between U.S. Social Security Administrator and concerned Indian officials to discuss and find a possible solution,” a commerce ministry statement said.
While expressing happiness on the US move to rescind the earlier decision to revoke foreign student visas whose courses have moved online due to the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, the Indian side also raised the suspension of H1B visa for skilled professionals. “The US side understood India’s viewpoint and said it is open to examine it,” a commerce ministry official said under condition of anonymity.
Goyal raised concern on USA keeping 24 Indian labour intensive items including handicrafts, carpets and leather products under Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) list and designating them as ‘child labour sectors’, thus denying the companies producing them the opportunity to participate in supply contracts of US government agencies. Secretary Ross offered to set up a meeting between the labour department officials of both sides to resolve the matter.
The Indian side also raised a concern on U.S. ban on import of wild catch shrimp from India on the premise that fishing practices followed in India were non-compliant with US regulations to protect sea turtles. Goyal mentioned the various conservation measures taken by Indian maritime states in protecting the sea turtles. “Secretary Ross appreciated India’s concerns and agreed to facilitate a discussion between the officials of U.S state department and Office of Marine Conservation with the Indian Department of Fisheries and Ministry of Forest and Environment, in this regard,” the statement added.