India hopes to double trade with US by 2009

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : India hopes to double its two-way trade with the US by 2009 and will continue to engage its largest trading partner to successfully conclude the current round of global trade talks, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said here Thursday.

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"India and the USA enjoy a healthy relation with a total trade volume of almost $30 billion in the precious fiscal," Kamal Nath told a press conference after a series of meetings with senior US officials and World Bank president elect Robert Zoellick.

"The US is India's largest trading partner and the foremost export destination accounting for 16.83 percent of India's export and some 6.34 percent of India's imports in 2005-06," Kamal Nath noted.

"India now would like to add more content to a larger trade basket," said the minister who was here to attend the US-India Business Council's (USIBC) 32nd anniversary celebrations and the Global India summit.

He also said a majority of US firms in India were reporting double-digit year-on-year growth and highlighted the success of companies like Coke, General Electric and US based banks like Bank of America and Citibank.

Earlier, Kamal Nath had a brief word with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and bilateral meetings with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

Kamal Nath reiterated India's commitment to take the Doha Round of world trade talks forward as New Delhi wanted to see a strong multilateral system in place as a powerful instrument of delivering international prosperity.

"We, like the US, do not want to see the multilateral system fractured by the failure of the Doha talks, and our inability to engage with each other candidly and fruitfully," he said, seeking mutual respect for each other's sensitivities.

Denying that the failure of the Group of Four (G4) trade ministers to reach an agreement at Potsdam in Germany had caused tension between the two, Nath said it was not a question of only India, US, Brazil or the EU agreeing.

"You have to take on board a large number of countries."

Discussions will now take place at the ambassadorial level with officials trying to converge on the text, he said, hoping the momentum will continue.

India can be flexible, but such flexibilities were contingent upon other things such as access for industrial goods and the removal of trade-distorting farm subsidies by rich counties, he said.

The distortions are caused by subsidies, Kamal Nath said, offering to take 10 percent more cut than what the developed countries were willing to take. But US, in the name of a little headroom, wanted them to take double the cuts.

India, he said is seeking a more balanced, a more just and a more development-oriented outcome in the WTO – an outcome that does not perpetuate the structural flaws in global trade, but redresses them.

The future of international trade lies not in tariff-reduction, which is going to happen in any case, but in meaningful reform of the rules, he said.

India is also seeking a balanced package on services trade as one cannot afford to restrict the deliberations to merchandise trade in today's globalised world. New Delhi has unilaterally taken steps to open its own services markets.

Asked about the India-US civil nuclear deal, the minister said, "We would like to see it go through." Both sides were committed to it, Kamal Nath said while recalling Rice's comments at the USIBC summit.