Eager to secure a working relationship with the new Joe Biden administration from the start and ensure that a long list of pending bilateral trade issues are solved, India has asked the United States to restart the annual India-US Trade Policy Forum (TPF) soon, senior sources said.
Established in 2005 and reconstituted in 2014, the TPF was an annual dialogue that helped smooth out differences in trade and economic policy and identify areas for trade and investment expansion.
The TPF has not met since 2017 due to the lack of interest by the former administration, which had also escalated attacks against India at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
After an increasingly combative relationship with the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) office over the past four years, the Piyush Goyal-led Commerce Department took the decision to request the USTR to rekindle the dialogue soon after the US election, sources said.
Both the government bodies had repeatedly clashed as former USTR Robert Lighthizer sharpened criticism against India on a long list of issues, including India's import duties for American goods, export subsidies and assistance given by New Delhi to exporters and market access for US goods.
India’s latest move may have also been born out of necessity. “There are many issues to be discussed and a cordial atmosphere is required for cooperation when complex talks go on for years. India has signalled that it was willing to relook at its commitments under the trade package, but issues such as the reinstatement of trade benefits to Indian exporters under America’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme can be addressed quickly through the TPF,” a senior official said.
The GSP provided Indian exporters in select sectors an advantage by giving them tariff-free access to the US market as part of the benefits offered by Washington DC to developing nations. All benefits stopped from June 5 when the US re-categorised India as a developing economy.
The US may also be interested
A senior diplomat based in Washington DC said that the US may also not be averse to rekindling the arrangement as a range of key bilateral issues, including higher import duties for specific high-value American agri goods such as shrimps, apples and almonds, India's pricing policies for foreign medical devices and concessions for Information and Communication Technology products entering India, remain unaddressed.
“Most importantly, the new administration is keen to begin talks with India on the Modi government’s policies on data privacy, e-commerce and digitisation. The issue of server localisation, which had hit a wall in 2020, will also be taken up by Biden's team,” he said.
The US remains India’s largest export destination, with merchandise worth $53 billion shipped in 2019-20. Imports stood at $35 billion, making the US India's biggest trade partner globally.