Global Trade Magazine: US-India Bilateral Trade Forum Accomplishes Little

By Peter Buxbaum

The US-India Bilateral Trade Policy Forum (TPF) took place in Washington last week for the first time since President Donald Trump took office and ended with discord among the parties.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer emphasized redressing the US trade deficit of $20 billion, as is Trump administration policy, while Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Sri Suresh Prabhu noted that US and Indian exports have been growing at the same pace. Prabhu also countered that trade deficits had to be viewed in the larger context of the growing partnership between the two countries and that the US is the second largest exporter to India.

Lighthizer expressed concern over price controls by India on pharmaceuticals and medical devices, while his Indian counterpart responded by saying that India needs access affordable healthcare for the citizens of its developing economy.

The US delegation pressed the Indians on protections for intellectual property, while Prabhu pointed to new government policies meant to strengthen India’s IP protections regime.

India, for its part, pressed for progress on easing procedures for exporting of mangoes, pomegranates, and grapes. India also complained of problems its citizens were having obtaining H-1B and L-1 visas and that they were confronted with higher visa fees and high rejection rates.

“Across many of these areas, both sides had differing views that could not be resolved immediately,” said Lighthizer. “However, there was agreement that it is critical to continue strong engagement over the coming months in order to achieve concrete outcomes.”

US industry expressed frustration that the forum did not “result in specific concrete actions to address challenges for US businesses and manufacturers exporting to or operating in India,” according to a statement from The Alliance for Fair Trade with India (AFTI).

US industries want to “concrete efforts to address issues in India that limit market access and undermine their competitiveness, including price controls, forced localization, technical barriers to trade and intellectual property barriers,” the statement said.

Speaking in advance of the forum, Linda Dempsey, Vice President for International Economic Affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), said manufacturers “want to see fair access to that market, and efforts to address priority issues such as price controls on innovative medical devices, continued challenges in protecting innovation and IP, forced localization policies in high-value, innovative industries, and other barriers.”

A letter form the AFTI to Lighthizer raised concerns that “India is failing to provide adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights and fair access to its markets. Further, India maintains and continues to propose significant IP and market access barriers.” Specifically, the letter cites price controls, forced localization, technical barriers to trade and intellectual property barriers as the issues of significant concern that US industries face in India.

“The innovation industry is encouraged by the government of India’s positive action on software patentability and intellectual property rights awareness, as well as its pursuit of much-needed procedural reforms,” said Patrick Kilbride, Vice President of International Intellectual Property for the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC). “However, growing price controls on innovative US medical devices will not only limit quality and consumer choice, but they also pose a formidable barrier to entry for innovative products, in turn hurting bilateral trade ties.”