Both nations decided to expand the number of working groups of chief executives with top US and Indian firms — from four to seven — with a new focus on financial trade and investments as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs). However, with the absence of US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, there was no joint statement, as the sides simply resolved to “further expand and strengthen trade and commerce ties”.
“Working groups have been formed among the CEOs. They will be providing recommendations to the government,” Kenneth Juster, US ambassador to India, said. He added that these groups would continue to work with both governments.
On Wednesday night, the US side had informed the government that Ross would be unable to come to New Delhi for the talks because of “inclement weather and technical problems”. However, on Thursday, Ross had a telephone conversation with Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu.
Last year, both countries had given a wide berth to contentious trade issues in the 2+2 dialogue, instead focusing on defence and foreign affairs. The erstwhile “India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue”, had started in 2015. However, after two annual rounds, a decision was taken to carve out trade issues into a separate annual discussion — "India-US Commercial Dialogue".
In the first edition of trade talks, Prabhu had gone to Washington DC in October 2017. But both nations coming to repeated blows over trade issues throughout 2018 had stopped talks from materialising.
Trade package in the offing
Sources said a bilateral trade package is being worked on. This will include changes in import duties on the US information and communication technology products, and preferential tariffs for Indian exports, apart from data localisation norms. However, the upcoming talks steered clear of this, as the US policy dictates that only the powerful United States Trade Representative’s office discuss such matters, an official said.
India's relation with its second-largest trade partner has been choppy during the Donald Trump regime. While exports to stateside have grown — $47.87 billion worth of Indian shipments reached the US ports in 2017-18, up from the $42.21 billion a year before — America’s irritation with a wider trade deficit has also grown.
US companies are willing to speed up technology transfer, especially in the renewables space and boost investments in the sector, American Tower Corporation Chairman & Chief Executive James D Taiclet, head of the business delegation that took part in the simultaneously held CEOs forum said. Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran led the Indian CEOs delegation.
Also, for the first time the MSME ministry has also been made a part of the dialogue.