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US, India make big strides in wheat trade talks

world Updated: May 30, 2007 10:22 IST

Reuters
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India and the United States are getting closer to an agreement on wheat import standards, which could allow new US wheat sales to India, diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, a team from New Delhi met with US Agriculture Department officials in Washington to discuss a host of plant safety issues that have stymied US wheat sales, sources at India's embassy in Washington told Reuters.

"With regard to wheat, the two delegations made significant progress on the modalities of import," a source said.

That included an agreement on how to certify that US wheat shipments meet Indian quarantine requirements, and also progress on how to make US procedures for sampling and measuring shipments for weed seeds fit India's requirements.

India requires a lower level of weed seeds than typically requested in international tenders.

Delving beyond those procedural but prickly issues is a priority for the US wheat industry as it seeks to start its grain flowing to the populous South Asian nation.

Phytosanitary rules that US officials deem "stringent" shut US wheat out of Indian purchases last year, when India bought 5.5 million tonnes of wheat. India is expected to buy 4 million to 5 million tonnes this year.

The Indian delegation, led by senior agriculture ministry official PK Mishra, also visited wheat processing facilities in Oregon and Washington state. The source said they were "impressed" with what they saw.

The two sides are expected to hold another meeting via videoconference to agree on future steps.

"We continue to work with India on procedures that would enable US wheat exports to that country," said Maureen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department's Foreign Agricultural Service.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Haarlander in Chicago)