Washington: Describing the reforms undertaken by the Indian government as “work in progress”, a top Obama Administration official has linked the growth in bilateral trade between the two countries to India opening up and liberalising its economy.
“Prime Minister Modi came in with a very ambitious agenda, including to improve the business environment, the Make in India initiative, the Digital India initiative,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman told PTI in an exclusive interview ahead of his next week’s travel to India to attend the US-India Trade Policy Forum meeting.
There have been a number of important reforms – the Goods and Services Tax bill, the Bankruptcy Law, the creation of commercial courts, the issuance of a national IP strategy, the opening of certain sectors to investment — that are important and help contribute to a better business environment, he said.
“However, it is a work in progress, and there continues to be issues around investment and restrictions that can be addressed in order to improve the business environment,” said Froman who is scheduled to travel to Mumbai and New Delhi next week.
One of the key architect of India-US trade relationship in the Obama Administration, Froman said India had been successful in increasing its growth rate, and is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
“And as it opens up to further trade and investment, I think we will see the relationship expanding further,” he said when asked about the timeline to achieve the goal set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama to increase the bilateral trade to USD 500 billion a year.
“The United States is quite an open economy, so the key is that as India continues down the path of reform, and opens and liberalises its economy, it will help grow the US-India trade relationship,” Froman said.
In Mumbai on October 19, Froman is expected to meet with the private sector, and on the next day he would be in New Delhi for the US India Trade Policy Forum meeting. The Indian delegation would be led by Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman.
“This is a good opportunity to have another Trade Policy Forum. Over the last few years, we have seen enhanced engagement through the Forum on a whole array of issues, and it has proven to be a useful Forum for getting the issues on the table,” he said.
“The US and India have a USD 109 billion trade relationship, but given the size of our economies, and how much we have in common, we could be doing a lot more. The TPF is one mechanism for us to address the issues so that we can expand our trade and investment relationship,” he said.
Froman said the Obama Administration had worked with India on an array of intellectual property rights issues.
“We both care a lot about strong copyright protection and the enforcement of copyrights, and the new (Indian) National Policy includes a focus on trade secrets, which we think is important. We appreciate the process that India went through in developing its IPR Policy,” he said.
“We continue to work in the pharmaceutical area, and we very much believe that there is no contradiction in promoting innovation and promoting access,” Froman said.
Asserting that the US is very much committed to the public health objective, Froman said with the government of India, the Obama Administration had talked about a whole array of issues about access to medicines, including tariffs on imported medicine and opening up the health services market so that there are more providers in the market.
“We try to take a holistic approach to this,” he noted. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a very high safety standards, he said, when asked about the delay in FDA’s clearances for Indian drug and pharma companies.
“We do not compromise that for anybody. The primary mandate of the FDA is safety. I’m sure it is a process that takes some concerted effort, but at the end of the day, it means that Indian firms will be meeting a very high standard,” he observed.