Piyush Goyal-Wilbur Ross meeting: CEOs pitch for India-US free trade agreement

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July 16, 2020 4:30 AM

Before the pandemic, India had planned to wrap up the “limited” deal with the US first and then explore the feasibility of a broader FTA after the American presidential elections in November, sources had said earlier.

Commerce minister Goyal reiterated the “extraordinary momentum developed in the India-US bilateral ties, driven by strong shared interests in promoting global stability, security and economic prosperity”. Commerce minister Goyal reiterated the “extraordinary momentum developed in the India-US bilateral ties, driven by strong shared interests in promoting global stability, security and economic prosperity”.

Corporate honchos from India and the US recommended a raft of policy steps, including the need for a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries, as they joined commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal and his American counterpart Wilbur Ross in a teleconference late on Tuesday to further deepen bilateral ties.

N Chandrasekaran, the co-chair of the India-US CEO forum and the chairman of Tata Sons, highlighted the need for the FTA as a “natural progression and outcome of the deepening commercial engagement” between the two countries, according to a commerce ministry statement on Wednesday.

Before the pandemic, India had planned to wrap up the “limited” deal with the US first and then explore the feasibility of a broader FTA after the American presidential elections in November, sources had said earlier. But the pandemic seems to have delayed the plan.

Chandrasekaran also urged the US government to recognise the contribution of India’s human capital to the American economy, and the “need for unhindered cross-border mobility of such talent”. His statement comes days after the Trump administration decided to suspend the issuance of new non-immigrant visas, especially for skilled professionals, until December 31, the latest in a series of such steps that have potential to hurt the Indian IT industry.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the two sides also discussed the US move to launch a probe against India and nine others, including the EU and the UK, for imposing or considering a 2% digital services tax (equalisation levy) with potential to hurt American companies.

At a time when Beijing’s relations with both Washington and New Delhi have strained, Chandrasekaran also stressed the global efforts underway to rebalance global supply chains, due to both geo-political and trade-related issues.

James Taiclet, the US co-chair of the forum and chief executive of Lockheed Martin, highlighted areas of unrestricted foreign ownership, policy stability and predictability, timely dispute resolution, protection of intellectual property and continuing investment in infrastructure as some of the key focus areas.

Kenneth Juster, US ambassador to India, stressed “potential risk of inward-looking policies in a post-Covid world”, according to the commerce ministry statement. Interestingly, while India is stepping up focus on self-reliance, the US has turned more protectionist than ever, linking its trade relations with others primarily from the narrow prism of trade balance.

The India-US CEO Forum held its fifth meeting (through the telephonic conference) on Tuesday, since its reconstitution in December 2014. The Forum is basically a platform to highlight key issues that affect business entities and to identify areas for closer collaboration for mutual benefit of both economies.

The meeting was chaired jointly by Piyush Goyal, minister of commerce & industry and railways and on the US side by Wilbur Ross, US Secretary of Commerce. Senior government functionaries, including Guruprasad Mohapatra, secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Taranjit Sandhu, the Indian Ambassador to the US, and Kenneth Juster, the US Ambassador to India participated in the meeting.

“A new set of reforms and policy recommendations, deliberated jointly by CEO forum members, were presented at the meeting, to further boost bilateral investment opportunities across key sectors of the economy, including healthcare and pharmaceuticals, aerospace and defence, infrastructure and manufacturing, entrepreneurship and promoting small businesses, energy, water and environment, ICT and digital infrastructure, financial services, trade and investments, among others,” according to the statement.

Commerce minister Goyal reiterated the “extraordinary momentum developed in the India-US bilateral ties, driven by strong shared interests in promoting global stability, security and economic prosperity”. The minister stressed the importance of small businesses in the economies of both the countries and the need to increase employment and skilling in the sector. US commerce secretary Ross, too, highlighted the initiatives in strengthening the bilateral relationship, particularly during the pandemic.

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