The Hindu - 18 September 2019
US, India keen to wrap up trade deal
By T.C.A. Sharad Raghavan
Ironing out issues ahead of Narendra Modi visit.
In the run-up to the meeting in Houston between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump, it appears that both countries are frantically working on ways to resolve long-disputed trade issues, especially relating to medical devices, agriculture, and e-commerce.
It is learnt that U.S. Ambassador to India Kenneth I. Juster held a meeting with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on September 17 on these issues.
Presentation for Goyal
Mr. Juster was also present at a two-and-a-half-hour representation made by U.S. medical device manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies to Mr. Goyal.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, at a press conference, said the India-U.S. relationship “is in very good health” and trade problems are normal.
“The U.S. ambassador was there during Mr. Goyal’s meeting with the foreign pharma companies, and in fact he asked the Indian players to leave the room as he was not comfortable having the Indian representatives there,” a representative of the Indian medical device manufacturers told The Hindu. “We had to wait for 2.5 hours for the meeting to get over, and insist that the Minister meet us too. Our meeting was much shorter, about half an hour.”
The U.S. government’s demands, on behalf of its pharmaceutical companies, are for India to remove the price caps on medical devices, especially on bioabsorbable stents for the heart and the knee. Mr. Trump will visit Mr. Modi at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston for Indian-Americans on September 22.
While the Ministry of Commerce has officially been non-committal, officials in the know have said that there is a high likelihood of the two leaders announcing a major trade deal during the event.
‘Asked to leave’
“The U.S. ambassador was there during Mr. Goyal’s meeting with the foreign pharma companies, and in fact he asked the Indian players to leave the room as he was not comfortable having the Indian representatives there,” a representative of the Indian medical device manufacturers told The Hindu.
“We had to wait for 2.5 hours for the meeting to get over, and insist that the Minister meet us too. Our meeting was much shorter, about half an hour.”
Commerce Ministry officials, however, justified Mr. Juster’s presence in an internal meeting of the Indian government.
“It is not unusual for the Ambassador to be involved in the discussions, especially in the run-up to the meeting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump,” an official said.
“The Ambassador held a meeting with Mr. Goyal last week, and also in early August, and this is a continuation of that. Further, at this juncture, it is crucial for him to be part of the deliberations.”
“To have another government sit in on your discussions on a national policy is extremely outrageous,” Malini Aisola, Co-convenor of the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), said.
“It is unbelievable the kind of open pressure the U.S. government is putting.”
Several representatives who attended the meeting said that it looked very likely that India would remove the price caps on key medical devices.
There were unconfirmed reports that Mr. Juster also held a meeting earlier in the day with Chemical and Fertilizers Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda. The Department of Pharmaceuticals falls under this Ministry.
The U.S. government has also been batting for increased market access in India in the agricultural sector, and an easing of FDI norms and data localisation rules for foreign e-commerce companies.