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India has been a ‘troublesome’ partner for US, says trade representative Robert Lighthizer

In an article in Foreign Affairs, Robert Lighthizer says letting India join the multilateral trade regime has led to ‘negative repercussions’ for the US.

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New Delhi: US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer has said India has been a “troublesome trading partner” for America and making New Delhi join the multilateral trade regime has had “negative repercussions”.

In an article, titled ‘How to Make Trade Work for Workers’, which he wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine’s July/August edition, the USTR also said that over time, free trade helped developing countries like India and China lift millions of people out of poverty.

“There may be situations when it is appropriate to make concessions on trade in order to achieve broader diplomatic aims, but one should keep in mind that such bargains can prove costly in the long run. Letting India join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the precursor to the WTO) in 1948 with nearly a third of its industrial tariffs uncapped, for example, no doubt made sense to Cold Warriors, who thought that it would help bring India into the US camp,” Lighthizer wrote.

He added, “Yet the negative repercussions of that decision persist to this day, now that India has become one of the world’s largest economies and, at times, a troublesome trading partner for the United States. Over the years, such concessions have piled up.”

Lighthizer’s article comes at a time when New Delhi is hoping to sign a ‘mini’ trade deal with Washington, the talks for which have been going on for over two years now. 

Both India and the US plan to have a larger and more comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA), encompassing more complex issues on tariffs on goods and services.

Also read: US holds all the cards in trade relationship with India, and Trump knows it well

‘Trade helped countries lift people out of poverty’

According to Lighthizer, who is considered to be US President Donald Trump’s go-to negotiator, the tendency of the previous George Bush and Barack Obama administrations and some other countries “to view trade through the lens of diplomacy has led to excess timidity”.

He said it was only under the Trump administration did the US use the right kind of tools to “confront China’s market-distorting subsidies and policy of forcing foreign companies to share their technology” or illegal timber harvesting in Peru or illegal fishing in South Korea.

“Although the United States should not wield its economic leverage blithely, fear of rocking the diplomatic boat cannot be an excuse for inaction. The Trump administration has demonstrated that it is possible to take targeted yet aggressive trade actions while managing the risk of escalation,” he said.

Ever since his appointment three years ago as Trump’s main man for trade talks, the USTR has not visited India even once. He was scheduled to undertake a trip in February this year prior to President Trump’s, but cancelled it at the last moment. 

Even during Trump’s visit, the USTR was not part of the delegation although US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was present.

In the article, Lighthizer also wrote, citing the example of China and India, how free trade and eventual lowering of trade barriers have helped these countries lift people out of poverty.

“Trade helped revive many of the country’s great urban centers. Cheap imports and the rise of big-box and online retailers have made an ever-expanding class of consumer goods available to the masses. In China, India, and throughout the rest of the developing world, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty,” he said.

Also read: Why US-India trade deal didn’t work out on Modi trip & what next 


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