Limited trade pact with US just a few phone calls away, says Piyush Goyal

FILE PHOTO: The minister also pitched India as the next manufacturing hub for tech innovations that US-companies come up with, providing affordable products for the global market | Photo: @PiyushGoyal on twitter
A limited trade pact with the US is only a few phone calls away and will solve the bilateral issues that have accumulated over the past few years, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the India Ideas Summit, organised by the US India Business Council, Goyal stressed that rather than wait for talks on a full Free Trade Agreement (FTA), India was willing to have an ‘early harvest trade deal’ that takes into account 50-100 export products and services.

‘Early harvest’ refers to a trade policy, in which both parties sign off on a set of deliverables. But Goyal also keenly batted for a more comprehensive trade deal as soon as possible. “The US and India need to sit down on the negotiating table. I don’t know if that can be done before the elections or post elections, but we need to work towards a much more robust and enduring partnership in the form of a FTA, towards which India is willing to work with an open mind,” he said. The US heads into Presidential elections in November.

For that, India is willing to open “our hearts and our markets with a corresponding opportunity for Indian businesses in the US”, Goyal said. The minister also pitched India as the next manufacturing hub for tech innovations that US-companies come up with, providing affordable products for the global market.

Assuring American businesses that ease of doing business remains a priority, Goyal said a GIS-based system that maps available land banks across six states, occupying a ‘few hundred thousand hectares of land’ will soon be launched on a pilot basis. A Google Earth view of the particular land parcel will be made available to potential investors.

A step-by-step reduction of import duties on high-value US agricultural products, trade margin policy for medical devices, and a promise to continue talks on reducing price restrictions on American technology goods remains India’s basic proposal for trade talks with the US. This is also conditional upon the US backing off from its tough stance on digital services taxes imposed by India.

India has also proposed to cut duties on high-value imports, such as almonds, walnut, apples, and wine, which were among 29 items on which the government had hiked duties by up to 50 per cent last year, said sources. The US wants India to reduce import duties on certain information and communication technology products, such as high-end mobile phones and smartwatches, which may make Apple iPhone products cheaper.

Last week, during a meeting between Goyal and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, India flagged the pending US-India Social Security Totalisation Agreement, to avoid double deductions from the income of employees working in each other’s countries, and allowing short-tenure Indian workers in the US to get back billions of dollars in social security deposits there. India also raised its concerns on 24 Indian products being barred from the US government supply contracts due to them being America’s Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act list, which designates them as ‘child labour sectors’.


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