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US Diplomat Calls for Trade Dialogue with India

  • Anjana Pasricha

FILE - U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal in Colombo, Jan. 31, 2014.
Amid recent clashes over trade and diplomatic issues, a senior American official visiting New Delhi says the United States remains committed to boosting its partnership and business ties with India. The U.S. diplomat called for dialogue to resolve differences which range from intellectual property to trade protection.

As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal wrapped up a visit to India, she said the countries are tackling their differences “head on.” Biswal said the solution is to “talk and to trade.”

She outlined U.S. concerns over market barriers in India in a speech in New Delhi.

“We are concerned that domestic content requirements here are discouraging investment into India, inhibiting innovation and holding India back from developing the world-class manufacturing sector it needs to compete and generate jobs for the millions of Indian youth entering the job market,” she said.

U.S. businesses complain Indian rules discriminate against American exports. The main friction relates to India’s fast growing solar energy sector, in which New Delhi has mandated local sourcing rules, triggering complaints of discrimination by the U.S. industry. India says its rules are compliant with international law.

The dispute is headed to the World Trade Organization.

That has raised worries the disputes are deepening the clouds over a relationship which has yet to recover from a rough patch following the December arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York. Biswal is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit India since then.

She spoke of red tape and a lack of transparency in Indian tax laws. Biswal called for India to strengthen protection of intellectual property, another issue American companies have been pushing, especially for production of drugs under patent protection.

In New Delhi, she struck a conciliatory note, saying the U.S. is focused on its partnership with India and wants to grow trade five-fold over the next decade.

“We want to work with India, trade with and invest in India, innovate with India, and grow with India," she said. "I assure you we are committed to cooperation and ambition in our ties with India.”

But analysts say the relationship will take time to recover, and the direction the two democracies are headed in remains uncertain until a new government is elected in India by mid-year.