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US Pressures India to Help Break Trade Talks Deadlock

The United States has sent its commerce secretary to India to push New Delhi to be assertive in helping break the impasse that has stalled world trade talks. VOA's Steve Herman reports from the Indian capital, where he spoke with the commerce secretary.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says he realizes the delicate political situation the Indian government faces when it comes to talks on opening up world trade.

Gutierrez is in India for two days of meetings with Indian Commerce and Industry Secretary Kamal Nath and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Gutierrez spoke Wednesday with VOA about India's difficulties in pushing forward the World Trade Organization talks, which have stalled for six months.

"Obviously these are difficult decisions. There are domestic matters that need to be taken into account," he said. "So we recognize that these are never easy discussions but there is a lot to be gained and I believe Minister Nath and others recognize that there is a lot to be gained."

One problem India faces is that the coalition government relies on support from two Communist parties that oppose trade liberalization.

The WTO negotiations have been stalled chiefly because of deep divisions over farm trade.

India and other developing nations want the U.S., the European Union and countries such as Japan to make more cuts in the protections they give farmers. They say subsidies and tariffs give farmers in rich nations an unfair advantage in the world market.

Gutierrez says the United States is willing to offer concessions if India and developing nations make concessions on the trade in manufactured goods and services. If progress is not made, he warns, it may be difficult to win support in the U.S. Congress for international trade deals.

Speaking to VOA, Gutierrez was upbeat about the latest U.S. trade numbers, which show a record-high deficit.

"We're talking about exports that are over a trillion dollars and off of that base we grew 13 percent," he noted. "So not only is it a very large economy and a very large base of exports, but it's also very large rates of growth and we're very pleased to see that."

According to data released Tuesday, the trade deficit in 2006 hit a record for the fifth year in a row, topping $730 billion.

U.S. exports to India rose 26 percent last year and the United States is booming India's largest trading partner.

The latest overall statistics, however, have prompted the leadership of the Democratic Party, which now controls the Congress, to ask President Bush to be more aggressive in penalizing countries for unfair trade practices.