Lobbying begins on Indo-US free trade pact

Economic Times (India) | 17 April 2007

Lobbying begins on Indo-US free trade pact

SUDESHNA SEN

First a nuclear deal, and next a free trade agreement. Industry lobbies in US are working towards activist’ agenda to eventually lead up to a Free Trade agreement between US and India, potentially the largest ever such deal. The US India Business Council is working out plans to prepare and execute a roadmap to create a US-India free trade agreement.

Obviously it’s all a very long way off, but what is interesting is that industry lobbies are waking up to the need to improve India-US trade figures. As of now, two-way trade between the US and India stands at a mere $32 billion. In contrast, two-way trade between the US and China is more than 10 times this amount, at $350 billion. At a time when the results of the Doha round is still up in the air, bilateral trade agreements are being considered as a serious alternative globally. Also the initiative comes at a time when there’s a rising tide of protectionism against the perceived impact of globalization.

As a first step, the council has invited a phalanx of high-end Washington-based consultants, to create the research, prepare and define, and then execute the roadmap to chart a logical progression towards deeper, more robust US-India trade and investment climate. "USIBC’s greatest contribution to free-market democracy in the coming years — consistent with securing a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Round — will be to prepare and execute a ’Roadmap’ that charts the course towards a Free Trade Agreement between the US and India," said Ron Somers, president of USIBC in the request for proposal. USIBC’s has identified its top advocacy agenda for 2007 is to improve US-India trade levels.

The list of firms invited to bid for the project include the likes of Patton Boggs, which is championing the US-India civilian nuclear advocacy initiative for USIBC — and which resulted in US Congressional passage last year of the Henry Hyde Peaceful Atomic Energy Act of 2006.

"The ultimate goal is to create the freest feasible trade and investment climate between the United States and India, one which protects respective national interests, and is, most-importantly, inclusive," said Mr Somers. The USIBC "is determined to dedicate USIBC’s considerable energy and resources to deepening US-India trade, identifying and removing barriers on both sides, and clearing the way for a new era of trade cooperation."

Trade expert professionals are being solicited to join the initiative as USIBC recognizes that "months and years of dedicated effort will be necessary to meaningfully deepen trade and investment beyond current levels." That is putting it mildly. USIBC intends to unveil the details of this project at its upcoming Global IndiaSummit on June 27 in the US, which will feature Indian Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, West Bengal’s Industry Minister Nirupam Sen, Reliance CEO Mukesh Ambani, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and other luminaries. The star at the event, however, will be the Indian mango from this season — which has only just made its debut in the US this year, highlighting the fact that this fruit has been held up by trade barriers for the past 18 years.

The US-India Business Council is comprised of 250 of the largest US companies investing in India, joined by two dozen global Indian companies, whose common aim is to strengthen US-India commercial ties and deepen two-way trade.

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source: Economic Times