India, US ‘nearing’ trade deal: Report

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets United States Defence Secretary Ash Carter during his farewell visit to India on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (Photo credit: Dept. of Defense/via IANS)

By Arul Louis

New York– Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US, the two countries are “nearing a trade breakthrough”, an influential publication, the Washington Examiner, has reported quoting US officials and industry “insiders”.

The conservative publication with close access to the Trump administration reported on Tuesday that “US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s team is racing to conclude discussions about the preliminary agreement over the course of this week”.

It quoted an official as saying: “I can confirm intensive discussions between (trade officials) on both sides, putting together a trade package.”

The Examiner said that the proposal being worked on would restore the General Scheme of Preferences (GSP) benefits for India, which was cancelled in June.

“In exchange, Modi would agree to make it easier for American companies to work in India in a few key sectors,” it said, adding that the proposals could be the framework for a final agreement to be signed in November if Trump visits India.

Meanwhile, in New Delhi, India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has also struck a note of optimism, hinting at an “early resolution”.

He said on Monday: “We are in continuous dialogue for past several months with the US and we are working towards an early resolution of many of those issues.”

But a final decision was up to Modi and Trump, he said.

Modi and Trump are to meet in Houston on Sunday when they both participate in the “Howdy Modi” rally organised by the India community.

A trade deal with India, even if partial, could be a welcome relief for Trump, who is mired in trade disputes with China, the European Union and others bringing on severe criticism domestically and abroad.

Putting pressure on the Trump administration, a bipartisan group of 44 US lawmakers have asked Washington to reinstate the GSP status for India, which enabled tariff-free imports to the US worth $5.6 billion.

They said in a letter to Lighthizer that the cancellation had also affected US businesses.

Representatives Ron Estes, a Republican, and Jim Himes, a Democrat, who started the letter campaign, got the signatures of 26 Democrats, including Raja Krishnamoorthi, and 18 Republicans.

The letter said that after the GSP facilities were cancelled, the US companies have been hampered in their attempts to expand market access or move forward on proposed investments.

Firms that enjoyed tariff-free imports for years have paid tens of millions of dollars in just two months, they added.

Acknowledging that India’s tariffs and restrictions also affected US businesses, they urged a measure of reciprocity.

They said that Lighthizer should consider an “early harvest” approach that reinstates some GSP benefits if India removes specific barriers, thus ensuring that long-sought market access gains for US industries are not held up by negotiations over remaining issues. (IANS)

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