US business seeks level playing field in India

Washington, March 14 (IANS) US lawmakers and leading economic experts are agreed there is enormous potential for US-India trade and investment, but complain that New Delhi does not provide its businesses a level playing field.

"The US-India strategic partnership is a key relationship with bilateral trade in goods and services rising from minuscule amounts 25 years ago to more than $86 billion a year now," said Devin Nunes, Republican chair of a House sub-committee, at a Congressional hearing Wednesday.

"But there is scope for much more. With a population of over 1.2 billion, India's market holds potential for world-class US products and services," he said. But "I want to ensure that US job creators compete there on a level playing field."

Charles Rangel, top Democrat on the panel spoke of "our terrific relationship with India, who's a vital ally, not only in terms of national security, but is one of our great, growing, trading relationships."

However, "we do have problems, as most friends and family would have," he said suggesting that the two try to work out their differences through dialogue and "avoid threatening, taking every issue to the World Trade Organization."

A leading Indian American economist, on the other hand, suggested that issues relating to localisation-protectionist measures and regulatory environment should be addressed through dialogue in the first instance.

"But if not, if that doesn't work, use the WTO to resolve conflicts as much as possible for two reasons," said Arvind Subramanian, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics and Centre for Global Development.

"One, you can test the validity of claims, you know, about India being way out of line on many of these issues, Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), agriculture. And second, India has a great record of complying with WTO rulings," he said.

On the uncertain regulatory environment, Subramanian was of the view that it's not going to get resolved very soon.

"So I think that US business has a challenge to adapt to the Indian environment, because if not, it risks losing ground to other countries, other competitors that are getting in despite the challenging environment," he said.

"Go big" was the final recommendation from Subramanian suggesting initiating deeper bilateral trade integration between the two counties given the enormous potential for US-India trade and investment because of India's unexploited growth opportunities.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint. This is multidimensional, not uni-dimensional," he said. "And sometimes going big is the best way to address even the small. You can't resolve chickens by talking only chickens."

"Within a generation, India's likely to become one of America's most vital partners in world affairs," said Dan Twining senior fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"It will bring more capabilities to the table than any existing US ally, in pursuit of our convergent interests: defeating terrorism and extremism, managing China's rise, keeping open the Indian Ocean sea lanes, and sustaining a liberal, international order," he said.

To elevate the bilateral economic relations to the strategic level, Twining said it was "time to put in place an agenda for economic cooperation between our countries that mirrors the ambitions of our strategic partnership, catalysing enduring prosperity for both our peoples".

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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