India is among the world’s most protectionist countries but the United States is trying to negotiate a limited trade deal with the South Asian nation to resolve their differences, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said on Thursday.
The United States and India have been locked in trade disputes for months that have led to tit-for-tat tariffs. Washington has been concerned about Indian policies that mandate foreign firms to store more data locally, restrict the way U.S. e-commerce giants operate and impose price caps on medical devices.
“All that we are looking for is to level the playing field,” Ross said in an interview on the sidelines of the India Economic Summit in New Delhi.
“The U.S. is the least protectionist country of the major powers. India is, if not the most protectionist, certainly one of the most protectionist.”
Citing lack of reciprocal market access, the United States removed India this year from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program that allowed duty-free entry for up to $5.6 billion worth of its annual exports to America.
New Delhi responded with higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 U.S. products, including almonds, apples and walnuts.
Ross said the United States does not believe India is eligible for the GSP, but the terms were being renegotiated and a resolution would be “a very good step toward free trade”.
“GSP (reinstatement) could be called a limited trade deal,” Ross said.
The two countries were expected to resolve their disputes and announce a deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to the United States last month.
Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump have enjoyed a warm personal rapport – the two leaders walked hand-in-hand at a recent event in Houston – but no trade deal was sealed as negotiators were trying to tie up loose ends.
A deal between the world’s most populous democracies would be a welcome victory for Trump, whose administration has made little headway negotiating an end to its prolonged trade war with China.
Ross will hold a one-on-one meeting with his Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal later on Thursday.
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