India and the United States on Wednesday agreed to fast-track technical negotiations for early conclusion of a Bilateral Investment Agreement during a meeting between Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

“We agreed to re-invigorate the Trade Policy Forum (TPF) and make it more robust and effective in resolving bilateral commercial issues, while maintaining the political leadership of the process,” Mr. Sharma told Indian reporters after the meeting.

“The two sides also agreed to fast-track the technical negotiations for an early conclusion of the India-U.S. Bilateral Investment Agreement,” Mr. Sharma said, adding there would be two rounds of negotiations before the next meeting of the ministerial level TPF, expected to be held in October, 2011, in India.

Reaffirming that the TPF is the premier dialogue for addressing trade and investment issues between the two countries, a separate USTR statement said the two agreed that the TPF should be strengthened to better facilitate resolution of outstanding issues of concern and looked forward to a constructive meeting of the TPF later this year.

“The booming bilateral trade and investment flows between the United States and India support tens of thousands of critical jobs in both countries and we know that will only grow significantly in the coming years,” Mr. Kirk said.

“However, to continue and grow our successes, both India and the United States must take concrete steps to resolve long-standing market access and investment concerns,” he said.

Describing his meeting with Mr. Kirk as productive, Mr. Sharma said the talks covered the entire range of issues in bilateral trade and commercial engagement.

Mr. Sharma apprised Mr. Kirk of various policy approaches being taken by India to sustain its high GDP growth and the opportunities it offered for US businesses to develop partnerships with the Indian private sector.

Mr. Sharma mentioned infrastructure, agriculture and agro processing, food processing, cold chain logistics and manufacture of electronic devices, including chip design, as areas with bilateral cooperative possibilities.

He also raised issues of importance for the Indian industry in their business operations in the United States.

The minister said the US welcomed the unilateral action taken by India in reducing tariffs on a number of products, including raw pistachios, cranberry products, seedless raisins, processed foods, medical equipment, fertilisers, chemicals and heavy machinery.

The USTR also appreciated India’s efforts toward increased cooperation in services and on improving the investment environment, he said.

According to the USTR, the two leaders recognised the challenges that remain in the ongoing discussions with regard to the Doha Round, but expressed their commitment to exploring options for productive next steps.

June 23, 2011

Source: PTI