While the failure to get a deal in Seoul quickly became The Big Disappointment of President Obama’s Asia swing in November, the let down in India went unnoticed, overshadowed perhaps by the $10 billion worth of export deals he brought home, a US government official said.
“Not even one of the deals we had been working on for months — and in some cases years — went through,” said the official, who has had a ring side view of the negotiations that followed.
Other US officials downplayed the disappointment arguing the India visit was hugely successful for both countries — the US got export orders that would create 54,000 jobs and India got an endorsement of its UNSC bid.
But there was a sense of disappointment, mostly in the office of the US trade representative, whose job it is to open up markets overseas and create conditions conducive for US firms.
Commerce minister Anand Sharma and US trade representative Ron Kirk had in a meeting of the India-US trade policy forum in September deadlined their staff to wrap up work on a selection of issue in time for President Obama’s visit.
“We instructed our focus group leads and other staff to redouble their efforts, particularly in the coming weeks before President Obama’s visit to India, to take concrete steps towards resolving several issues of concern,” said a statement then.
Much of that is still on the table. The disappointment is not over the failure to get the prized scalps — FDI in retail and insurance and financial services, “which we know are political hot potatoes in India”, the official said — but on potentially less contentious issues.
Renewable energy was cited as an example. India and the US have been discussing setting up of solar energy facilities, but talks are stuck on — “a small issue” — norms requiring local sourcing of a portion of the hardware.
It’s not a small issue for New Delhi as it wants to create local manufacturing capacities. Besides, this clause will apply only to solar energy facilities selling power at rates subsidised by the government.
“We had been working on five to six things,” said the official, adding, “hoping to bring to fruition some of them in time for the President’s visit.” But that didn’t happen, leading to some disappointment in Washington.