US experts moot `game changing' ways to boost India-US trade

Washington, Sep 26 (IANS) The US wants India to embrace more economic reforms and has suggested some "specific" measures that could give "real movement" to the flagging Indian economy and help expand India-US trade ties.

And as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Washington for a summit meeting with President Barack Obama, leading US economic experts asked India to "go big" and suggested "game changing" strategies, including a free trade agreement, to boost bilateral economic relations.

Ideas came from Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting here Wednesday with Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid ahead of the Singh-Obama meeting in Washington.

"The secretary said if India can march forward and embrace reforms, they can see real movement on their economy," a senior official said in a background briefing on the meeting. "And they talked about the importance of finding ways to expand trade relations."

Asked if Kerry had cited any specific reforms to Khurshid, the official declined to give details, but said: "They did have some conversations about specific steps, yes."

There was agreement by both sides that there's more that can be done, he said, and said Kerry "was just encouraging steps that could be taken".

Meanwhile, a senate panel was told that "trade and economic relations between India and the United States need a broad strategic framework".

Arvind Subramanian, Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow at Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, said: "This framework would include as critical elements embracing the principle of, and initiating preparatory work toward, a free trade agreement in the medium term."

He was testifying on "the Investment Climate and Improving Market Access in Financial Services in India".

The starting point for forging a cooperative partnership is the recognition that despite frictions, the underlying potential is enormous, said Subramanian suggesting "the prize is big".

Noting that currently US-India trade is well below potential, he said the proposed broader framework will represent "Going big".

"And going big is necessary," Subramanian said "because this is a relationship between two great democracies with deep commonalities; because this is a marathon not a sprint; because this is a multi- not uni-dimensional relationship."

"Going Big is the best way to address even the small," he said suggesting "more colloquially, 'you can't solve problems relating to chicken (or even financial services) by only talking chicken (or insurance)'."

Richard Rossow, director for South Asia, McLarty Associates made three specific recommendations on how the US engages India that he firmly believed "can play a role in triggering game-changing shifts in the investment environment".

His suggestions included pushing harder to conclude a high-standards bilateral investment treaty; continuing and escalate engagement with key (Indian) state leaders and constantly reviewing and reshaping areas of US engagement with India.

"If we are able to dynamically review and reshape the ways we engage India, we can achieve a much higher level of engagement and satisfaction," he said, expressing confidence that "if we have the flexibility to find the open doors to push upon, we can establish more realistic expectations for the relationship".

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

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