U.S., India seek to boost trade ties in energy, defence

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they begin a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The United States and India plan to boost bilateral trade in energy, aerospace, defense, pharmaceuticals and healthcare as part of a continuing commercial dialogue, officials from both governments said on Thursday.

They have set up seven working groups of chief executives with top U.S. and Indian firms that will focus on financial trade and investments as well as bring together small and medium enterprises (SME) from the two countries.

“The working groups have been formed among the CEOs. They will be providing recommendations to the government,” Kenneth Juster, U.S. Ambassador to India, told reporters at a briefing on the sidelines of the talks.

India and the United States have developed close political and security ties. But bilateral trade, which stood at $126 billion in 2017, is widely seen to be performing at nearly a quarter of its potential.

“We resolved to facilitate two-way trade and investment to build on such growth,” Indian Trade Minister Suresh Prabhu said in a tweet.

Executives participating in the discussions included Tata chairman N. Chandrasekaran and American Tower CEO James Taiclet, an Indian government statement said.

U.S. and Indian officials pressed on with talks on Thursday to resolve differences over trade and investment, Indian government sources said, after U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called off his visit because of bad weather at home.

Ross addressed the forum in Delhi through teleconference after his flight was cancelled, a government statement said.

Chief executives of top U.S. and Indian firms raised the issue of data localization, Juster said, but it was not directly addressed by Indian and U.S. government officials, rather left to private discussions being held separately.

Last year India announced proposals to force foreign companies to store more of their user data locally so as to make it accessible to any legal investigations.

U.S. lobby groups voiced doubts, saying this made it difficult for firms to do business in India.

The two governments were also discussing U.S. tariffs imposed blast year on steel and aluminum imports, he said.

India and the United States are at odds over a range of trade issues, from India’s new rules on e-commerce that affect firms such as Amazon and Walmart to Indian data localisation and tariffs that U.S. President Donald Trump says are exceptionally high.

Washington has also had a longstanding grievance with India over its large trade deficit with the United States and what it sees as the Indian government’s lax intellectual property enforcement.

New Delhi defends the measures on e-commerce as a way to protect the interests of small businesses and says it has been cutting tariffs gradually to give local industry a level playing field and create jobs for a very large youth population.

The meeting coincides with a USTR review of India’s eligibility as a beneficiary of its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), under which the country has enjoyed zero tariffs for about 2,000 goods worth $5.6 billion exported to the United States.

Reuters reported last week that the USTR was considering withdrawal or scaling back of these tariffs because of the lack of reciprocity from India on its tariffs, its tightening curbs on online sales and its insistence that foreign payment card companies, such as Mastercard and Visa, store data in India.

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