Indo-US trade: Piyush Goyal says contours of deal worked out

Piyush Goyal with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the India Leadership Summit in New Delhi, Monday. (PTI)

India and the US have worked out the broad contours of an agreement to resolve trade-related issues between the two countries, and the “first set” of agreements will “hopefully” be announced “soon”, Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said Monday.

“...we’ve almost resolved the broad contours of what we are going to announce. I don’t see any great difficulty in closing the gap on the first announcement, but... both Ambassador (Robert) Lighthizer (United States Trade Representative) and I understand that we have huge potential we still need to tap,” Goyal said during the USISPF India Leadership Summit here.

“We will hopefully come out with our first set of agreements soon, but we both believe that India and the US should look at larger engagement in the days ahead, possibly even leading to an announcement for a bilateral agreement that will go beyond the mere tinkering that we are doing at present,” he said.

According to Goyal, the two countries would have been in a position to announce an agreement sooner, but the USTR’s negotiations with Japan and subsequent discussions with China had “probably” delayed the finalisation of the US’ trade package with India.

“We had a little pause because all of us were busy in different areas, but it’s on track. Everything is going smoothly,” he said.

India is looking to the US for technology, innovation, skills and quality education, while it offers an “attractive market to US businesses and skilled labour that can add value to American companies,” he said.

On its participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Goyal said India would also protect “every interests of domestic industry, India and the people of India” before agreeing to any free trade agreement.

“Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi protects India’s national interest first and does not fitter away free trade agreements like we saw in the 2009-10 period of the Congress regime, where agreements were done in a hurry, often asymmetrically against India’s interests and very often with clauses that were detrimental to India,” he said. “India’s market access in a significant measure to these countries and I think India will ensure that on services, on investments, in every aspect, our national interest is protected first before any agreement is entered into with anyone,” he added.

The Indian Express reported on October 16 that India had been finalising a list of American food and beverage products like bourbon whiskey, frozen chicken cuts, walnuts and apples that it could reduce import duties on as part of its bid to resolve trade issues with Washington.

Trade tensions between the two countries had been on the rise over the last two years following\ the US’ decision to hike tariffs on steel and aluminum products and certain decisions by India that the Trump administration claimed was preventing “equitable and reasonable access” to its markets.

India’s decision to slash maximum retail prices of cardiac stents and knee implants over 65 per cent, tariffs on information and communication technology products and demands that dairy product exporters certify that their produce was derived from animals not fed food containing internal organs were among the sticking points.

Following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw India’s benefits under its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme in June, tariffs on products like almonds, apples and walnuts imported from the US were hiked by the Modi government.

The two sides were expected to announce a trade package during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the US last month. Goyal had travelled to meet USTR Lighthizer during this visit as well.