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‘Mini-deal’ not on cards, but India, US will revive Trade Policy Forum after 4 years

New Delhi is keen on restarting the talks for a smaller trade deal with the US. But the Biden administration wants to address the ‘irritants’ first.

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New Delhi: The India-US Trade Policy Forum (TPF) set to meet later this year — for the first time since 2017 — as the two nations prepare to revive bilateral trade talks, ThePrint has learnt.

While New Delhi is keen on “restarting” the talks for a mini-trade deal, the Joe Biden administration wants to address the “irritants” first and not negotiate a deal immediately, the sources said. 

The new US administration is looking to smoothen out issues concerning tariffs, market access, investment and services, added the sources.

On Tuesday, Christopher Wilson, Assistant US Trade Representative (AUSTR) for South and Central Asia, and Brendan Lynch, Deputy Assistant USTR, arrived in India for a visit to pave the way for the TPF.

The forum is expected to be held in November-December.

The India-US TPF was established in 2005 with the Office of the USTR and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in India serving as nodal agencies. USTR Katherine Tai and Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal will chair the forum now.

“The delegation is looking forward to constructive meetings this week and to a productive upcoming meeting of the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum this year,” the US Embassy in India said in a tweet Tuesday.

“The U.S. seeks to work with India to enhance our bilateral trade relationship by addressing trade concerns, identifying specific areas for increased engagement and developing an ambitious, shared vision for the future of the trade relationship,” it added.

The TPF last met in October 2017 in Washington DC under the then commerce minister Suresh Prabhu and former USTR Robert Lighthizer. However, both the US and Indian governments then decided to begin negotiating a trade deal directly rather than having the annual dialogue. The plan was to conclude a mini trade deal followed by a larger comprehensive bilateral free trade agreement.

Also read: Strategic autonomy key to successful Indian foreign policy in next decade, experts say

Differences over deal

According to the sources, both sides are keen on taking the two-way trade to the “next level” — with a goal of achieving $500 billion bilateral trade in goods and services, up over twice from nearly $150 billion at present. This goal was set under the Barack Obama administration. 

But Washington is not looking at negotiating a trade deal as such, as of now.

However, India has urged the US to resume talks for the limited trade deal that was being negotiated under the previous Donald Trump administration, since a lot of “energy and effort” went into it, the sources said. The deal was almost finalised by July-August last year but could not fructify due to the 2020 US presidential elections, they added.

The issue was raised with US officials during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington and New York last month. It has also been discussed whenever Goyal and Tai have held conversations, sources said.

According to the sources, the US wants India to grant “significant market access” for its agricultural produce as well as for IT products. This is the reason why the Trump administration wanted to have a smaller deal with India, followed by a large free trade agreement.

But the Biden government’s topmost priority on trade is China.

Sources also said that during PM Modi’s interaction with US business leaders in New York last month, he was told that they are keen on a trade pact between both countries, but this is not the focus of the Biden administration — at least in the first tenure.

India’s trade surplus with the US was at $23 billion in 2020-21, as against $17 billion in the previous two years. In the current 2021-22 fiscal, the trade surplus is around $5 billion so far, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

Also read: Want India trade pact to be at par with those with Quad partners: Australian Trade Minister


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