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India, US having frank, open conversation on BIT: official

Press Trust of India  |  Washington 

and the US are having a "very open and frank conversation" on the ambitious bilateral investment treaty whose model drafts have been exchanged between the two countries, a top American trade official has said.

"We have exchanged model drafts, our teams have had a number of discussions to ask questions about each other's models to get an understanding of what those differences are, and the degree to which those differences might be bridged," US Trade Representative Michael Froman told PTI in an exclusive interview ahead of his next week's travel to to attend the US-Trade Policy Forum meeting.

Those conversations continue, and it has been a "very open and frank conversation, which we welcome," said the top most trade official of the Obama Administration, who has been a key architect of the India-US trade relationship in the last eight years.

"From our perspective, a high standard bilateral investment treaty (BIT) would be very much consistent with the Prime Minister's Make in India initiative because it would help create and contribute to the business environment, which is so important to attracting investment," Froman said.

Responding to a question on increasing trade disputes between the two countries, in particular at the World Trade Organization, he said this is normal given the increase in bilateral India US trade.

"Having disputes is part of a normal economic relationship," Froman said.

"The fact that we have a dispute settlement body is precisely to make these sorts of issues part of the normal course of interaction among trading partners. I think the WTO has been very successful in that regard, and that is why so many parties rely on the WTO," he said.

"The fact that we have a dispute settlement body at the WTO to channel these issues means that we can continue to develop our economic and strategic relationship, at the same time we deal with outstanding trade concerns," Froman said.

Acknowledging that increase in H-1B visa fee is an issue of great interest and importance to India, Froman, however, pointed out that in 2015, Indian nationals received 69 per cent of all H-1B visas and 30 per cent of all L1-B visas.

"The United States relies on talent from around the world in our economy and that's why we have these programmes. There is no intent to discriminate against anybody in that process," he said.

Froman said as of now there was not much progress on India's membership to Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

"APEC is a consensus-based organisation, and right now there is no consensus about how to deal with membership expansion," Froman said in response to a question.

"And so I think, the next administration coming in for all

of those reasons would continue to prioritise the relationship with India," she said, adding that strategic convergence is the key highlight of the India-US relationship during the Obama Administration.

"What we have tried to do that through strategic ones is to make sure that when we are pursuing policies and actions that we believe would either impact India or where India can play a role in trying to advance, we call, we talk, we engage and we share and bring India into that conversation. So this is not one of those easily visible and explainable outcomes," she said.

"We can talk about the agreements that have been signed, we can talk about the visits, we can talk about the increased economic investments in each other countries, all of those are very very consequential and much more easily visible and definable," Biswal said.

"But the quality that is most important which is less visible to the outside eye is the fundamental shift in how we see each other on our strategic relationship and the fact that a Secretary of State will pick up the phone immediately on important issues, oh, I have got to check in with my Indian counterpart on this issue and make sure that it is ok with them. That's what I have hoped would transpire and that's where we are today," she added.

Indian-Americans, she said have played a key role in the bilateral relationship.

"The role Indian Americans have played, is both during times when India was little understood and not as prominent globally and now during times when India is much more a leader and a driver across the world. Indian-Americans have sought to bring greater understanding of that relationship and support for that relationship," she said in response to a question.

"So for me as an Indian-American, who both understands where I want my country to go and what the goals and interests are of the United State and also know what it is that will appeal to the Indian ear, what they need to hear from us on how we engage with them, with respect, with dignity, with understanding, with appreciation for all of the complexities that are in India. That I believe has been the added value that I have been able to bring in trying to deepen the relationship," Biswal said.

"I think there will be prominent Indian-Americans that I am sure will play that role for the next administration as well," Biswal said.

First Published: Sat, October 15 2016. 08:13 IST