US and India hold meeting to calm trade tensions

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Donald Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. Reuters

NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – US and Indian government officials pressed on with talks yesterday to resolve their differences over trade and investment, Indian government sources said, even though US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called off his visit because of bad weather at home.

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Mr Ross addressed a US-India CEO Forum by video after his flight was cancelled and was due to similarly join the commercial dialogue later in the day with Indian Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu, the sources said.

US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster is leading the delegation on the ground.

India and the United States are sparring over a range of issues, from India’s new rules on e-ecommerce that affect firms such as Amazon and Walmart to data localisation and its tariffs that US President Donald Trump says are exceptionally high.

Washington has also had a longstanding grievance with India over its large trade deficit with the United States and what it sees as the Indian government’s lax intellectual property enforcement.

A US trade delegation led by United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin began high-level talks with Chinese counterparts yesterday to de-escalate a tariff war ahead of a March 1 deadline for a deal.

New Delhi defends the measures on e-commerce as a way to protect the interests of small businesses and says it has been cutting tariffs gradually to give local industry a level playing field and create jobs for a very large youth population.

Details of the discussions held yesterday were not immediately available and officials said the two sides were likely to issue a joint statement.

The sources also said that trade negotiations would be conducted by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and not by the Commerce Department, which is focused on boosting investment, improving the business climate and some specific areas such as travel and tourism.

Still, the two sides are expected to touch on the thorny issues that have cropped up in recent months and pledge efforts to address them. “It will be a friendly discussion, they would avoid the risk of disappointment,” said a source with knowledge of the matter.

The meeting comes at a time when the USTR is reviewing India’s eligibility as a beneficiary of its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) under which the country has enjoyed zero tariffs for about 2,000 goods exported to the United States that are worth $5.6 billion.

Reuters reported last week that the USTR is considering withdrawal or scaling back of these tariffs because of the lack of reciprocity from India on its tariffs, its tightening curbs on online sales and its insistence that foreign payment card companies, such as Mastercard and Visa, store data in India.

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