Piyush Goyal moots $1 trillion target for India-US trade

A US flag flies near containers stacked high on a cargo ship at the Port of Los Angeles on Tuesday. Indian commerce minister Piyush Goyal has proposed an ambitious target of $1 trillion for India-US bilateral trade over the next 10 years. (AFP)

Indian commerce minister Piyush Goyal has expressed frustration with the failure of the two countries to conclude a trade agreement after numerous rounds of discussions most of which happened on his watch, specially over 2019 and 2020.

Indian commerce minister Piyush Goyal on Wednesday proposed an ambitious target of $1 trillion for India-US bilateral trade over the next 10 years even as he expressed frustration over the failure of the two sides to conclude an agreement after multiple rounds of talks with the earlier Trump administration.

India-US bilateral trade in goods and services stood at $146.1 billion in 2019, according to the latest update by the US Trade Representative’s office.

“India and the US can be two countries which should be looking at a balanced future trade upwards of $1 trillion in the next 10 years,” minister Piyush Goyal said at the virtual annual leadership summit of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, an advocacy group, that started on Wednesday.

“Unless we keep some very ambitious targets, we’ll never get there. I’m happy to look at a trillion-dollar target for the next 10 years between the US and India. I’m happy to engage with the US, and look for expanding our economic partnership.”

India-US trade is up against another ambitious target, one that was fixed by President Joe Bidden when he was vice-president in the administration of President Barack Obama. In a speech at the Bombay Stock Exchange during his 2012 India visit, Biden had suggested a “five-fold” increase in the volume of the bilateral trade, which had then stood at $100 billion.

Piyush Goyal on Wednesday also expressed frustration with the failure of the two countries to conclude a trade agreement after numerous rounds of discussions most of which happened on his watch, specially over 2019 and 2020. “We had actually concluded discussions maybe three or four times, but would always get stuck somewhere in the red tape and for a change,” the minister said, adding, “India was not responsible.”

India and the United States were expected to sign an interim trade agreement – leaving a comprehensive trade agreement for a later date – during former President Donald Trump’s visit to India in February 2020. But the two sides failed to conclude talks in time for the visit and vowed to come up with something later in the year, which never happened as the US went into elections and Trump lost.

Piyush Goyal had said at the time a deal was just a few “phone calls away” to reflect how close the two sides were to an agreement. Indians have blamed the US side for failure by the two sides to get a deal saying American negotiators kept changing the goalpost constantly, making fresh and additional demands.

Trade talks have remained stalled since then. Goyal and his US counterpart Katherine Tai have spoken but there have been no discussions about a trade agreement.

The two sides decided to start talking during the first bilateral summit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden here in Washington DC last week. “They looked forward to reconvening the India-US Trade Policy Forum before the end of 2021, to enhance the bilateral trade relationship by addressing trade concerns, identifying specific areas for increased engagement and developing an ambitious, shared vision for the future of the trade relationship,” said the joint statement issued by the two sides.

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