'WTO's future bright; US ready to up engagement with India'

Confident of greater bilateral trade and enhanced cooperation at global economic platforms, the US today said it is ready to increase engagement with India to find new common ground at WTO and asserted that the future looks "bright" for this global trade body.

PTI| Updated: Aug 28, 2016, 16:37 PM IST
'WTO's future bright; US ready to up engagement with India'

Washington: Confident of greater bilateral trade and enhanced cooperation at global economic platforms, the US today said it is ready to increase engagement with India to find new common ground at WTO and asserted that the future looks "bright" for this global trade body.

The comments assume significance as during the WTO's Nairobi Ministerial conference, differences had surfaced between developing countries including India and developed economies including the US on issues related to the Doha Round, public stockholding for food security purposes and new issues being pushed by the rich nations.

"In our view, the future looks bright for the WTO and we remain ready to increase our engagement with India to find new common ground after years of impasse in the Doha round," Jeff Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, told PTI in an interview.

He also said that the proposed Bilateral Investment Treaty between India and the US needs to be of "sufficiently high standard" and discussions would continue to achieve this outcome.

Zients, who will be in India this week for the second US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, further said: "We are already working with India and other WTO members to find new ways forward to take up pending Doha Round issues and to ensure that the WTO's agenda remains relevant, particularly with respect to issues such as the digital economy and interests of small and medium enterprises.

"The last two WTO Ministerial Conferences in Bali and Nairobi were significant successes, including outcomes on the Trade Facilitation Agreement, agricultural export subsidies, and public stockholding for food security purposes."

He added: "We recently built on these successes at the G-20 Trade Ministers Meeting in Shanghai where we made commitments on lowering the costs of trade, coordinating efforts to reinforce trade and investment, and supporting sound agriculture policies."

Zients also serves as Assistant to the US President for Economic Policy. Previously, he was appointed by the President to a newly created position of United States Chief Performance Officer. Prior to joining the Administration, Zients spent 20 years in the private sector as a CEO, management consultant and entrepreneur.

During his India visit, he would co-chair the second US-India CEO Forum alonside the US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. 

On concerns over slowing global trade and the role India and the US can play, being the two major trading partners of the world, Zients said: "US-India bilateral trade has grown 80 per cent since 2009.

Since that time, India has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and the US has continued to strengthen following the recovery from a significant economic recession, with policies that encourage innovation, trade, and investment.

"We have each had our own challenging domestic conversations on trade, but trade has provided huge benefits to both the US and Indian economies".

He said both the economies are well positioned to continue contributing to global trade growth.

He added that the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue and US-India CEO Forum this week, as well as the Trade Policy Forum that will be held in October, are focused on ways to strengthen bilateral trade partnership and business environments.
Zients said: "We are working together both bilaterally and multilaterally to increase trade, remove constraints, and create jobs. Regional efforts to open economies and increase connectivity across countries are also important. The US and India also have an important opportunity next week at the G-20 Leaders' Summit hosted in Guangzhou, China, where counties will continue our efforts to achieve sustainable growth and spur job creation."

Asked about the long-running discussions on a new Bilateral Investment Treaty between the two countries and whether any positive closure was expected during the Dialogue, he said over 500 US companies are active in India and the US foreign direct investment (FDI) in India stands at over USD 28 billion.

At the same time, Indian FDI in the United States has nearly doubled since 2010, he added.
Zients said: "Investment treaty discussions are not on the agenda for this week?s Strategic and Commercial dialogue, but the prospect of a US-India bilateral investment treaty (BIT) is something we continue to support.

"Discussions on such important agreements between two large economies can take time. By establishing clear rules for investors, such treaties can improve confidence in an investment climate, and in doing so help spur investment, economic growth, and job creation.

"But to achieve these objectives, a BIT needs to be of a sufficiently high standard, and we continue to explore with India how discussions could lead to such an outcome." 

Pritzker said an open economy is in the best interest of India, the US and the world and reforms will benefit businesses and allow for more seamless integration of both Indian and American products into global supply chains.

"The US Government is committed to working with the Government of India through the US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue and other bilateral fora to address these concerns," she added.

Asked about her message to the next administration in the US with regard to economic ties with India, Pritzker said, "To the next administration, and to my successor at the Department of Commerce, I would say the following: you have an opportunity to build on what has already been achieved.

Continued progress will require greater ambition from both governments, but we see tremendous potential for the US and India to continue working together on a range of issues, strengthening our commercial relationship, and improving the climate for trade and investment."

On the roadmap to achieve USD 500 billion bilateral trade target, she said, "While the trade in goods between the United States and India has declined slightly over the past year, the overall US-India bilateral trade and investment relationship remains on solid footing following a decade of strong growth.

"To put this in perspective, bilateral trade in goods and services between the United States and India has grown more than fivefold since 2000, reaching roughly USD 109 billion in 2015. Given India?s bright growth prospects and our strong cooperation on a number of issues facing our economic relationship, I am optimistic about the long-term possibilities for future growth in our trade and investment ties.

She added: "It is true that we have more work to do. India is only the United States? 10th largest trading partner and 18th largest export market. In addition, India represents only 1.8 percent of US exports and only 2.5 percent of US imports. For economies our size, we can to do much better."

Pritzker said the US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue is very important in this regard as it is a time to review the progress that has been made over the past year, and set an agenda to guide our upcoming work.

She added: "In addition, it is critical that as our governments continue working together, we are also receiving the robust input from both of our private sectors on the areas that must be addressed to improve our economic relationship. Our business leaders have incredible insights into the global economy and can be great partners in affecting policy change.

"Together, we are focusing our efforts on key market access issues that impact US trade and investment with India, including promoting a clear and predictable tax regime, protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights, and encouraging a transparent and consistent regulatory environment. We are also encouraging open trade and investment policies, such as liberalizing FDI to boost investment and allow for more seamless integration in global supply chains."

Pritzker will co-chair the Dialgoue with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, and Minister of Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman. In January 2015, the US-India Strategic Dialogue was elevated to the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue to reflect the growing significance of the US-India economic relationship. This is the first time the S&CD will be held in India.

She will also also co-chair the second US-India CEO Forum alongside Jeff Zients, the Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. During this event, the CEOs will communicate their joint recommendations to the US and Indian governments.