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One-Way St: Solve market access issues on bilateral basis, says US

The Economic Times | 29 November 2006

One-Way St: Solve market access issues on bilateral basis, says US

NEW DELHI: While the US has ruled out the possibility of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India, it is prepared to sort out market access issues with the country on a bilateral basis.

US deputy trade representative Karan Bhatia said that market access issues could be resolved through bilateral discussions just like the recent clearance given to import of Indian mangoes by the US.

Speaking at a seminar organised by CII, Mr Bhatia said that his country was open to adopting a bilateral approach for dealing with specific problems faced by India in gaining market access in the US.

Bilateral talks to smoothen trade issues between the two countries gain increased significance in the absence of substantial progress in the multilateral Doha talks at the World Trade Organisation. He, however, clarified that an FTA between the US and India was not in the offing.

During the visit of US President George Bush to India, the US had agreed in-principle to allow import of Indian mangoes, which were earlier restricted due to sanitary and phyto-sanitary regulations. India is still awaiting actual clearance.

Mr Bhatia also warned that the US was likely to withdraw the duty concession to the Indian gems and jewellery sector when the General System of Preferences (GSP) comes up for review. “The GSP provides duty concessions on imports from some sectors of industry in developing countries to improve their competitiveness. The Congress has expressed its concerns on gems and jewellery, whether it is appropriate to give it concessions as the sector has become competitive,” he said.

Earlier, speaking at the CII economic summit, Mr Bhatia expressed the US’ willingness to negotiate further on the reduction of domestic subsidies in agriculture in a bid to move the stalled Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations ahead.

The country, however, is clear that it will not make any ‘unilateral’ offers in agriculture and its additional offers will be subject to reciprocity from other members.

The WTO talks were suspended in July this year following the failure of key members including the US, the EU, India and Brazil to arrive at modalities for liberalising markets for trade in agriculture and industrial goods.

The primary reason for the talks getting stuck was the US’ refusal to undertake commitments for undertaking real cuts in agriculture subsidies. Mr Bhatia said that the US was ready to engage with other WTO members on all issues including agriculture subsidies. “We hope that Doha is reinvigorated immediately. However, to expect us to offer something in agriculture unilaterally is wrong,” he said.

With the US House of Representatives election over, the US government now has the freedom to resume the WTO talks with other members. However, it doesn’t have too much time to waste as it will lose its trade promotion authority in June next year.

If the trade promotion authority is not renewed, the US government will have to get Congressional approval for all major decisions it wants to take at the WTO. So, if a deal is not through by that time, the conclusion of the Doha round cannot happen before the US Presidential elections in 2008.

 source: Economic Times