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U.S. trade officials are speaking of progress in their latest round of discussions in India. U.S. Trade Representative has made his second visit in 45 days.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk met with India's Commerce Secretary, Anand Sharma on Monday, as part of the two country's on-going trade policy forum.
Although two-way business has tripled in the past decade to $43 billion annually, American officials are eager to expand it much more, noting that U.S. trade with India is less than 10 percent of what it is with China.
The United States is India's second-largest export market with cotton-made products, jewelry and gems topping the list in terms of total value.
The two countries have been looking at an investment treaty to further expand trade. Kirk told reporters, following his meeting with the Indian commerce secretary, the latest talks have been "extremely productive" and are making "great progress."
"The real value of our work today was being honest and frank about our challenges and committing ourselves to doing the hard work necessary to get some of these issues off of the table," he said.
The Trade Representative expressed frustration about the already-completed deal in which Washington cleared the way for Indian mangoes to flow freely into the United States while New Delhi, in exchange, agreed to allow U.S. made Harley-Davidson motorcycles onto Indian roads. However, due to high tariffs, Kirk notes, not one American motorcycle has yet been sold here.
The top U.S. trade official is also pushing India to open the market for U.S. pistachios, considered a prestigious festival-time gift among Indians.
Another unresolved issue involves intellectual property protection, especially regarding pharmaceutical drugs. India restricts copyright protection to the manufacturing process, not to substances themselves. Many in India argue tougher rules would deny affordable drugs to the poor.
Indian trade officials are also hoping to widen U.S. market access for some of their bigger industries, such as dairy products. India is the world leader in milk production.
The United States and India established a government-to-government Trade Policy Forum four years ago. This marks the sixth ministerial-level meeting of the forum. During his visit, the U.S. Trade Representative also met with top Indian business executives.
This visit also included discussions between the top U.S. and Indian trade officials about the stalled Doha round of multi-national talks. Kirk, following the talks here, expressed guarded optimism a global trade agreement could be achieved next year, but he cautioned the negotiations would be "tough and difficult."
There is reportedly a wide gap between rich countries and developing nations at the talks over issues involving market access. Observers say, in a change from its earlier hard-line stance, India now desires not to be seen as the deal-breaker and is attempting to take more of a leadership role to foster consensus in those trade talks. But it also, as is the case in other developing countries, must be cautious about loosening protections for its domestic farmers.