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US pushing India to buy $5-6bn more farm goods to seal trade deal

The sources asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the discussions. Other than the agriculture sector, the US could be swayed if some of that additional revenue goes to its energy sector, said one of the sources (REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/File Photo).

THE US wants India to buy at least another $5-6 billion worth of American farm goods if New Delhi wants to win reinstatement of a key US trade concession and seal a wider pact, four sources familiar with the talks told.

US president Donald Trump cited trade barriers last year when removing India from its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme that allowed zero tariffs on $5.6bn of exports to the US. In retaliation, India slapped higher tariffs on more than two dozens US products.

Ahead of a Trump visit to New Delhi to meet prime minister Narendra Modi next month, negotiators on both sides are hammering out terms for a trade deal that would include New Delhi rolling back higher tariffs on some farm goods such as almonds, walnuts and apples, one of the sources said.

Both governments had hoped to work out a limited trade deal last year, but struggled to reach an agreement.

India’s commerce ministry and the US Embassy in New Delhi did not respond to a request for comment. The office of the US Trade Representative did not immediately respond outside regular business hours.

While India has offered partial relief on medical device price caps that have hurt American pharma giants and a roll-back in tariffs on some US goods, Trump’s team wants a sweetener of $5-6bn in additional trade for US goods to restore GSP privileges, three of the sources said. That demand was conveyed by the US to India in late December, said two sources.

As part of the negotiation, the US wants India to increase imports of frozen poultry products, the first source said. The US has already been pushing India to cut the high import taxes on poultry products.

“The deal has to be agriculture focused, the US is putting a number on everything (if India wants GSP back),” said one of the sources.

The sources asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the discussions. Other than the agriculture sector, the US could be swayed if some of that additional revenue goes to its energy sector, said one of the sources.

Indian oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan this week said India was looking forward to extending its energy cooperation with the US and other countries, but didn’t disclose any planned deals.

Trump is likely to visit India in late February, in what would be his first visit to the South Asian nation since he took office three years ago.

India and the US have built close political and security ties, but in recent years trade frictions have come to the fore. Trump has often named India as one of the countries with the highest tariffs in the world.

Trump’s administration has also been upset with India’s decision to force foreign card networks to store more data locally and imposition of stringent e-commerce investment rules that impacted operations of Inc and Walmart’s Flipkart.

A fifth Washington-based source with knowledge of the US administration’s thinking said a US-India trade deal would be far smaller than one the US struck with China this month, but will “look basically the same”.

China this month agreed to increase purchases of US products and services by at least $200bn over the next two years in exchange for the rolling back of some tariffs, defusing an 18-month row that had hit global growth.

“It will be challenging for the US to see a reasonable agreement with India … without concessions on the trade gap. Given the recent deal with China, India has to follow suit,” said Samir Kapadia of Washington-based lobbying and advisory firm, The Vogel Group.

Trade between the US and India stood at $142.6bn in 2018, but Trump wants to reduce its $25.2bn deficit with India.

India has also offered the US a commitment to increase purchases of almonds and apples and scrap an import tariff of 50 per cent levied on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the first source said. Trump has publicly said India’s high tariffs on such bikes was unacceptable.

India initially also offered to relax some tariffs on high-end US technology products, but that is now off the table, said one of the sources.