U.S. trade negotiators to visit Delhi to continue talks

Sources close to both sides expressed optimism that progress had been made and a limited trade package was being finalised.

November 15, 2019 09:26 pm | Updated November 16, 2019 01:35 am IST - Washington

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s deputies will be visiting India in the following weeks.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s deputies will be visiting India in the following weeks.

Trade negotiators from the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) are expected to visit New Delhi next week, or at the latest, the week after next, to continue discussions with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and his team, at least three independent sources, from the Indian and U.S. side, told The Hindu. This follows Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal’s visit to Washington DC on Wednesday for discussions with USTR Robert Lighthizer and his team to progress a limited trade package between the two countries.

The visit by USTR Robert Lighthizer’s deputies to New Delhi was discussed on a telephone call between Mr. Goyal and Mr. Lighthizer on Thursday, when Mr. Goyal was back in New York City for industry interactions.

On Wednesday, Mr. Goyal was accompanied to the trade talks by officials from the agriculture and health ministries as well as members of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Price caps or ‘trade margin rationalization’ for knee implants and cardiac stents has been one of the key differences between the two sides.

Also under discussion for months, has been the Generalized System of Preferences — a preferential market access program the U.S. offers developing country partners.

India’s GSP benefits were revoked in June on the grounds that India had not assured the U.S. that it would provide “equitable and reasonable” access to its markets, as per U.S. President Donald Trump’s proclamation on the issue. Mr. Trump believes the world trading system, and more broadly, the multilateral system, treats America unfairly.

India has wanted its GSP benefits restored but it is unclear whether any limited trade agreement reached between the sides will result in a full or partial restoration of GSP benefits to India. The extent of GSP restoration has been one of the discussion points between the two sides.

India also has wanted a rollback of tariffs on steel and aluminium imports into the U.S. that Mr. Trump had imposed in 2018 across countries, ostensibly on national security grounds.

Both India and the U.S. have wanted greater access for agricultural commodities in each other’s markets. The U.S has wanted lower Indian tariffs on apples, almonds, and walnuts, Business Line had reported earlier this week. The U.S. has also wanted tariff concessions on Harley Davidson motorbikes (of symbolic value to Mr. Trump), dairy products and Information Communication and Technology (ICT) products. India has been reluctant to move on ICT products, concerned that it would open Indian markets up to a flood of Chinese goods.

Wednesday’s discussion between Mr Goyal and Mr Lighthizer ( The Hindu has not confirmed who else participated in the meeting), began at 10.30 am and was meant to go on till noon but continued till at least past 2 pm, The Hindu learned from a reliable source.

Sources close to both sides expressed optimism that progress had been made and a limited trade package was being finalised. This optimism , that a limited deal can be reached appears to be higher than it was at the end of September when Mr. Goyal and Mr. Lighthizer met in New York City hoping to stitch together a limited deal prior to the September 24 bilateral between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Trump. The Hindu had then reported that a deal was out of reach at the time.

"I'm increasingly optimistic that a deal can be struck. It won't be very big value wise but after roughly 18 months of negotiating and almost six months since GSP was suspended, it would be a symbolic win for both sides,” former USTR official Mark Linscott, who is currently a fellow at the Atlantic Council, told The Hindu .

“Hopefully no intervening developments derail an agreement before it can be concluded or is fully implemented," Mr. Linscott said.

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