India open to signing mini trade deal with US at the earliest: Goyal

The India-US mini-trade deal, incorporating tariff concessions for a handful of products, may be finalised soon after the US Presidential elections in November although there is a possibility of the pact happening earlier if Washington was willing, Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said.

“I had a conversation with US Trade Representative Ambassador Lightheizer. We both agree we can look at doing the deal before the elections also. Otherwise, (we can do it) soon after elections. The entire package is near ready and can be finalised anytime that the local political situation in the US permits them to. I am open to signing up tomorrow to what we have agreed upon….We, in India, believe that it has to be win-win for both countries,” Goyal said at an event on ‘US-India Navigation New Challenges’ organised by US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) on Tuesday .

The Minister pointed out that he had sorted out most of the issues around the initial trade agreement with the USTR before the US President’s India visit in February this year. “Only some dots and commas needed to be finalised,” he said. The US side was reportedly seeking greater access to markets for Indian agriculture, dairy and medical equipment while one of India’s demand was restoration of the Generalised System of Preferences benefits for Indian exporters.

Trade negotiations

The Covid-19 pandemic broke out soon after after Trump’s visit, and the negotiators lost valuable time during the period, Goyal said. “Trade negotiations are complex things. They are not something you are doing for the short term. You can’t be careless about what you are agreeing or disagreeing. I believe there should be a foundational trade deal that will help us deepen our engagement going forward,” the Minister said.

The mini-trade deal will help both countries to move quickly to the next phase of a deeper deal in the form of a free trade agreement, he added. Since the US President has a strong following amongst farmers in his country, a limited trade deal with India that offered market access in agriculture could help him win votes, say some analysts. However, agriculture is a sensitive area for India with millions of poor farmers dependent on it for their livelihoods and it is not easy for the government to open it substantially.

Goyal outlined the steps being undertaken to facilitate industry and investments. He said that GIS-enabled land bank has been launched on a pilot basis, with six States on board, which will help investors in identifying the land and location.

The Minister said a single-window system for clearances is being developed in cooperation with various approving authorities and agencies at the Central, State and municipal levels.

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