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US Urges India To Join New Trade Talks - 2001-08-10

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick is urging Indian officials to set aside their reservations about a new round of global trade talks and join the process. Indian officials have long objected to a new round of talks, saying current global trade rules are unfair and should be modified before any new talks take place.

Robert Zoellick is the first U.S. cabinet-level official of the Bush administration to visit India. Saying U.S. India relations are on a "solid footing," Ambassador Zoellick urged India to join a new round of global trade talks. Trade ministers from the 142 member countries in the World Trade Organization will meet in November in Doha, Qatar, to discuss launching a new round of talks covering agriculture, textiles, industrial projects and services.

Mr. Zoellick, who has been holding discussions with senior Indian officials for three days, says he believes U.S. concerns are being listened to. "I think the Indians have a strong domestic political sensitivity on these issues," Mr. Zoellick said. "And what I have tried to do is listen, and answer some of their questions, and suggest some ways in which we might be able to pursue their agenda in a constructive fashion and urge them to move off a negative position to a more positive position. Time will tell, but I have found that people are listening."

So far, Indian officials, including Trade Minister Murasoli Maran, have said they do not believe a new round of global trade talks is necessary. Indian officials say, before any new trade talks begin, existing trade rules should be renegotiated. Existing rules call for such measures as the phase-out of textile quotas for countries in the developing world.

India plays an influential role among the bloc of developing nations that make up three-quarters of the World Trade Organization's membership. Many of those nations say they have not benefited from the 1994 Uruguay Round trade pact, despite liberalizing their economies and opening their markets to foreign investors and exporters.

Speaking to reporters prior to his departure from New Delhi, Mr. Zoellick said he urged Indian officials not to miss the opportunity to bring their concerns to a new round of talks. "I can start to see the forces coming together for a round, and, therefore," Mr. Zoellick said, "I was urging my Indian colleagues to frankly interact more on their agenda, which in a number of cases overlaps with our agenda."

Mr. Zoellick says the United States shares India's concerns on a number of issues, including plans by the European Union to link environmental and labor standards to trade issues.

During his visit to New Delhi, Mr. Zoellick announced duty-free status will be given to 42 Indian products, including carpets, leather and jewelry.

Mr. Zoellick praised India's efforts at economic reform over the past decade, but he also says more needs to be done, noting that, while the average tariff in India has fallen to about 30 percent, that is still twice as high as tariffs in China, and ten times as high as tariffs in the United States.