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India, US are close to quick trade deal: Piyush Goyal

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India and the US are close to inking a “quick” trade deal, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said Tuesday, adding that the pact aims to get issues that have been pending over the past couple of years “out of the way”.

Following this, Goyal said, India wants to negotiate with its top trading partner for a preferential trade agreement for 50-100 goods and services.

Indications are that the negotiations involve discussions to improve access for India’s generic drugs to the American market. The US, on its part, has been seeking more access for its farm goods, like almonds and apples, on which India had raised tariffs last year.

The US has also been trying to get India to remove a requirement that dairy imports from that country bear a certificate showing that the animals from which the products were derived were not fed “blood meals”, a dietary supplement derived from blood.

“I think the US and India are natural allies…In the long term, I believe we have a quick trade deal, which has some of the pending matters built up over the last couple of years, which we need to get out of the way quickly,” Goyal said at the virtual US-India Business Council’s India Ideas Summit.

“We are almost there. I think another couple of calls and we should be able to sort that out,” he said.

Sources told The Indian Express that the issues under discussion are “largely” the same as before, as negotiations had initially hit a speed bump because of the Covid pandemic.

India’s pharmaceuticals industry has been seeking increased access for its generic drugs, said sources. Indian drugs currently account for nearly 40 per cent of supply in the US market.

Goyal, meanwhile, reiterated his views that the two countries should also look at a preferential trade agreement consisting 50-100 goods and services in order to “kickstart” a trade partnership.

“We believe we should also look at an early harvest in the form of a preferential trade agreement rather than waiting for the gains of a free trade agreement, which can take several years to conclude,” he said.

The US is India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade touching $88.75 billion in the 2019-2020 financial year. Talks for a trade deal started in 2018, but there have been disagreements over various issues like tariffs, subsidies, intellectual property, data protection, and access for agricultural and dairy produce.

Last year, trade tensions culminated in the US revoking India’s status as a beneficiary of its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme that allowed duty-free benefits to export a variety of products. India responded by implementing retaliatory tariffs on 28 items imported from the US, including apples and almonds.

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