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Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019

In a breakthrough, India and US close to signing initial trade deal

india Updated: Nov 16, 2019 00:13 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj

Washington: India and the US are set to finalise an “initial” trade agreement soon in what could pave the way for a larger deal, including a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), at a later stage.

An American delegation is scheduled to travel to India next week to “put the final touches” to the deal, following “productive” conversations between commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal and his US counterpart Robert Lighthizer.

The two spoke over the phone on Thursday to further the discussions, a person familiar with the talks said.

No details were available on the issues resolved during the interaction, the person cited above said, adding, the discussion was based on the desire of the two sides to get “equitable market access” on a reciprocal basis.

India and the US have been in talks for months now to resolve trade differences and lay the ground for an FTA, which was indicated by Goyal earlier this month.

The two countries are looking at a near-term deal and a long-term version later, according to Indian and US officials. The two-track negotiations were first discussed publicly by US President Donald Trump in remarks to reporters before his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York in September. “We will have the larger deal down the road (in) a little bit, but we will have a trade deal very soon.”

Goyal and Lighthizer had met then for talks, which both sides had described as sincere. They had also struck an “excellent rapport”, according to people tracking the talks closely. They have also spoken over the phone several times since to advance the negotiations, which had been described at one stage as in “need of one more meeting of the principals”.

The meeting took place on Wednesday.

No details were available of the talks — other than that “important” issues were resolved. India wants the removal of US tariff on Indian steel and aluminium and the restoration of special preferential trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which were suspended in June. The US has a longer wishlist with access to dairy and medical devices sectors, lower Indian tariff on information and communication technology (ICT) products and the roll-back of data localisation rules mandated by the government.

There has been speculation that if the two sides are able to reach an agreement, President Trump could travel to India for the signing of the deal. But officials on both sides have discounted it, saying a visit looks “improbable” at this stage.