By Arul Louis
New York, Feb 22 (IANS) While the long-awaited trade agreement appears to be off the table during US President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to India, “significant commercial” deals are in the offing, according to a senior administration official.
“We have a number of significant commercial deals, which are of great significance that we’re very pleased to announce in a number of key sectors,” the official said on Friday.
While US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer, who is piloting the trade deal negotiations, is not in Trump’s delegation, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is coming with him.
“We’ll be looking at a few handful of agreements on the defence, trade, energy front,” the official added.
Asked about reports that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on intellectual property protection may be signed during the two-day visit, the official said: “I don’t have any specific details on the MOU.”
The official put the blame entirely on India for not having the trade deal ready.
“Whether or not there will be an announcement on a trade package is, really, wholly dependent upon what the Indians are prepared to do,” the official said.
The official cited the recent budget’s promotion of ‘Make in India’ and the increased tariffs on some imports in the recent budget as making the situation worse.
“We have had a number of announcements coming from India in the past several weeks, which are making the discussions a bit more difficult perhaps. Recent announcements on ‘Make in India’ have made the protectionism concerns in India even greater.”
he official said there was also growing divergence on e-commerce and digital areas. “So it’s a pretty wide scope, frankly, of important service and goods access barriers that we need to address.
“We will be discussing those concerns. And what we see as an increase in barriers, not a decrease, this will certainly come up among the leaders.”
The official said that the US wanted “to get the balance right” before there can be a trade deal.
“We want to address a bunch, a lot of concerns, and we’re not quite there yet.”
The official said that revoking the special concessions to some Indian imports under the General Scheme of Preferences (GSP) “was really the failure of the Indian government to provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets in numerous sectors”.
The official did not expect it be reinstated unless there was reciprocal action by India.
“We continue to talk to our Indian colleagues about addressing these market access barriers. Our trade teams led by USTR have been in touch with their counterparts over the past several weeks,” the official said.
The negotiations on the GSP as well as on the trade deal will continue after the visit, the official added.
The official stressed the importance of access to each other’s markets for both the countries.
“The trade and economic relationship with India is critically important to the United States, and I think also access to the US market is critical to the Indian government. We do want to make sure that we get this balance right.”
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)