November 25th, 2006 12:45 EST
U.S. agriculture secretary urges wider opening of India's farm markets
Washington " India must play a leading role in reviving World Trade Organization (WTO) talks by offering more market access agricultural exports of the United States and other countries, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns says.
Your leadership is influential, and other nations will follow your example, " he told a business group in New Delhi November 21.
Johanns said that Indian producers and exporters of farm goods would benefit substantially " from a WTO agreement that would lower tariffs and other trade barriers.
The WTO negotiations, officially known as the Doha Development Agenda, were suspended indefinitely in July after countries had failed to reach consensus on cuts in agricultural subsidies and tariffs. Several nations, including India, have insisted on sheltering many so called sensitive or special products considered by them to be essential to food security, livelihood security or rural development. (See related article.)
Johanns said potential WTO benefits will not be realized if India continues to insist on excluding a large number of special products from full tariff reductions.
Designating products as special not only blocks most U.S. exports, but also sets a troublesome precedent for other countries, Johanns told the Reuters news agency.
A proposal by India and other G20 developing countries would leave 86 percent of farm products with no new market access, he said.
Johanns said the United States is seeking substantial " market access improvements but added that the perfect number is difficult to tell unless you negotiate the whole package. "
The Doha Round is about reducing barriers, not building them, " he said.
On November 19, the United States and other Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies said they stand ready to cut subsidies and tariffs to restart the WTO negotiations and urged other countries to show similar resolve. (See related article.)
Johanns acknowledged that influential groups in India have concerns about trade liberalization and increased market access.
India has said its aim in the Doha round is a deal that does not put at risk the livelihoods of millions of its subsistence farmers.
But Johanns said that Indian farmers have much to gain from a successful conclusion of the round, including more agricultural exports and investment in agribusiness as well as faster development.
India`s domestic policies, Johanns said, can help attract foreign investment and promote the development of competitive agricultural industries by combining market opening with transparent and uniform regulations.
Johanns urged India to establish science-based regulatory frameworks, especially for food safety issues, and offered U.S. help in such efforts.
On November 20, another U.S. official praised India`s market reforms, which he said have contributed to growing trade between the two countries.
However, Under Secretary of Commerce Frank Lavin told the U.S.-India Business Council in Washington that India can do more to boost its economic growth. He cited as particularly pressing such issues as relaxing foreign ownership restrictions in retail, financial services, banking and insurance sectors; establishing and enforcing laws protecting intellectual property rights; and reducing tariffs.
Lavin is to lead a November 29-December 5 business development mission to India.
A transcript of Johanns` remarks is available on the Agricultural Department Web site and the full text of Lavin`s remarks as prepared for delivery is available on the Commerce Department Web site. The Commerce Department Web site also offers a fact sheet (PDF, 7 pages) on the business development mission to India and a list of participants in that mission.
For more information on U.S. policies, see USA and the WTO.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)