New US trade chief focused on India, striking deals


June 22, 2013

The new US Trade Representative is expected to raise concerns about investing in India at a US-India CEO Summit, and later at the US-India Trade Policy Forum.

June 22, 2013

The new US Trade Representative is expected to raise concerns about investing in India at a US-India CEO Summit, and later at the US-India Trade Policy Forum.

Washington: New US Trade Representative Michael Froman on Friday said he expected growing trade problems with India to be a major early focus of his tenure, but stopped short of saying the United States should cut off benefits for that country.

"We have a number of concerns about the investment and innovation environment in India," Froman said in a wide-ranging interview shortly after being sworn into office. "It's something that we're very focused on." Other top priorities are completing trade deals with 11 countries in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region and with the European Union, and ensuring that countries live up to their existing trade obligations, he said.

Members of Congress and business groups have urged the Obama administration to take a tougher line on India's trade policies, including its use of compulsory licenses to suspend patents on US drugs, barriers to US agricultural exports, restrictions on foreign investment and local content policies that discriminate against foreign goods.

Froman, who until recently was Obama's chief international economic affairs adviser, said he expected to raise the issues next month in Washington at a US-India CEO Summit, and potentially in a future meeting of the US-India Trade Policy Forum, which has not met since 2010.

Some lawmakers have suggested removing India from Washington's Generalized System of Preferences program, which helps developing countries export goods to the United States. Froman treaded carefully on that question, noting that many U.S. companies also benefited from the program, since it lowered their production costs by waiving duties on imports. "We need to take a careful look at that … This is something we want to work with Congress on," he said.

Froman, whose friendship with Obama goes back to their days together at Harvard Law School, takes over the top trade post at one of its busiest times in recent years. The United States hopes to wrap up trade talks with Japan and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region by the end of the year, and will hold the first round of talks on a proposed U.S.-EU agreement the week of July 8.

The Trade Representative declined to comment on concerns raised by several senators about Shuanghui International's proposed $4.1 billion purchase of Smithfield Foods, which would be the biggest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company to date.

Those lawmakers have argued that the tie-up poses a potential threat to both U.S. food security and food safety, and they want the administration to consider those issues before deciding whether to sign off on the deal. 'I would only say as a general matter the U.S. is open to foreign investment provided it meets our overall statutory standard,' he said.

On another matter, Froman said he expected a decision on whether to suspend Bangladesh from the US Generalized System of Preferences by the end of June, following recent tragedies, including a factory fire that killed more than 100 people, that have raised concerns about working conditions in the Asian nation's garment sector.

Most of Bangladesh's garment exports to the United States do not receive duty-free treatment under GSP, so suspending it from the programme would be a mostly symbolic move.

Courtesy: Reuters