India ready to sign trade deal, says US to take final call

Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday said he is ready to sign an initial trade deal with the United States, which he said was in a “near-ready” state, “tomorrow” but he has left it to American negotiators to decide keeping in view their local political situation, the upcoming elections.

“I am open to signing up tomorrow, what we have agreed upon, and I have left it to Bob to take a final call,” Goyal said, referring to Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative.

India and the United States have been close to wrapping up an initial trade deal, which the minister has also described as “foundational” as a stepping stone to a larger and more ambitious Free Trade Agreement. It addresses key urgent issues such as restoring to India special trade benefits in the US in exchange for larger access for American companies to Indian dairy and medical devices sectors.

The minister said the two sides could have “ideally” signed the deal during President Donald Trump’s India visit in February, but for some “dots and commas that needed to be finalized”.

“We have actually sorted out most of the issues around this initial trade agreement,” Goyal said at a session of the annual summit of the US-India Strategic Partnership forum (USISPF, a trade body of companies from both countries.

While negotiators grappled with the outstanding wrinkles, the two countries, as the rest of the world, shifted all their attention and resources to tackling he Covid-19 epidemic. “We lost valuable time during that period,” the minister said of the severe lockdown of the initial weeks in India.

The two sides are now ready to wrap it up, the minister said, referring to a recent conversation with Lighthizer. The entire package is “near ready and can be finalized at anytime that the local political situation in the US permits them to”, he added.

The US has is well and truly in election mode now. President Trump, who is seeking a second term, faces Joe Biden, the former vice-president and Democratic nominee for president. Also on the ballot on November 3, election day, are the entire House of Representatives, a third of the US senate and many state-wide positions.

“We, on India’s part, believe that it has to be win-win for both countries,” Goyal said of the deal under discussion. The “architecture of the initial deal” that has been created is in the best interest of businesses in India and the US and it’s in the interest of both countries to “deepen our strategic partnership with this initial trade deal”.

“It will open the doors to starting a dialogue on a larger bilateral engagement,” he added.

India ready to sign trade deal, says US to take final call