US Pact to go beyond ‘tinkering’: Goyal
Piyush Goyal is optimistic about Indo-US trade ties and hinted on a bilateral announcement that will go beyond “mere tinkering”. USTR Robert Lighthizer is expected to visit India and the visit is crucial to the continuation of GSP position of India.
“We have almost resolved the broad contours of what we are going to announce. I don’t see any great difficulty in closing the gap on the first announcement but both of us are very clear in our minds that given the strong relationship, both at our leaders’ level where PM Modi and President Trump have taken the Indo-US relationship to a new high,” Goyal said at the USISPF’s India Leadership Summit here.
“I think that Indo-US relationship is at the best ever. We will come out with a first set of agreement soon,” he said, adding that the two should look at much larger engagement in the days ahead “possibly even leading to an announcement for a bilateral agreement, which will go beyond the mere tinkering that we are doing at present”.
Goyal said India is looking to the US for technology, innovation, skills and quality education. India, on the other hand, offers an attractive market to US businesses and skilled labour that can add value to US companies.
USISPF expects India-US bilateral trade to grow to $238 billon by 2025 with defence trade, commercial aircraft, oil and LNG, coal, machinery and electronics being areas of potential growth in US investments and commerce into India. Indian industry has an opportunity to promote automotive, pharmaceuticals, seafood, IT and travel services to the US.
United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to visit India soon but the dates are yet to be firmed up.
“Probably by now, we would have been in a position to announce something but for the fact that he (Lighthizer) was caught up earlier when we met in the US... Therefore, probably our own finalisation of trade package got a little delayed,” he said.
Lighthizer’s visit is crucial as the office of the US trade representative had previously linked market access in the two areas of dairy and medical devices to continuation of GSP and also sought data-related relaxations, including in India’s e-commerce policy. More than dates, Goyal said the outcome is important.
In terms of personal chemistry with USTR, Goyal said they “both hit it off ” and he values his friendship with and guidance from Lighthizer, who is helping him learn some of the intricacies of complex complicated trade negotiations.
“He overestimates his own feeling that he’s not very good to people. He often tells me that ‘you know that I’m very mean in my negotiations. You will prefer not to meet me’, but when I met him, every time I have talked to him, I found him to be a wonderful person,” Goyal said. He said every trade negotiator would protect his country’s interest. “He is doing a fabulous job for his country and that’s what I am expected to do for India,” the minister said.
On the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement, Goyal said every interest of domestic industry and the people has to be protected before the government executes any free trade agreement.
“Government of PM Modi protects India’s national interest first and does not fitter away FTAs like we saw in the 2009-10 period of the Congress regime where agreements were done in a hurry, often asymmetrically against India’s interests and very often with clauses that were detrimental to India with no gains on services, no gains on India’s market access in a significant measure to these countries,” he said on the sidelines.
The minister said India will ensure that its national interest is protected first on every aspect of services and investment before any agreement is entered into with any country.
Goyal, who is also the railway minister, said there is a need to make railway freight more competitive and he is trying to make it possible for everybody to “own their trains and rakes and wagons, and empower them with little bit more freedom on pricing and freedom on running the show”.
He said the government is trying to revamp the entire signalling system, adding that about 40% capacity can be enhanced by spending $15 billion on the signalling system.
Separately, the railway ministry is also trying to see how better operations research (OR) techniques can be used and build a zero-base timetable.
“I am quite sure that given our existing system, I can improve my capacity by 20-25% only by rewriting the timetables,” he said.