Indian, US officials in crunch talks to break trade tariffs deadlock

U.S. Ambassador to India Kenneth I. Juster (2R) talks with United States Trade Representative (USTR) Assistant for South and Central Asia Christopher Wilson (R) and Deputy Assistant USTR for South and Central Asia Brendan Lynch (2L) prior to a meeting at the Parliament house in New Delhi on July 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2019
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Indian, US officials in crunch talks to break trade tariffs deadlock

NEW DELHI: Indian and American trade negotiators on Friday were meeting in New Delhi in a bid to break the logjam over strained commercial relations between the two countries.
Christopher Wilson, assistant US Trade Representative (USTR) for South and Central Asia, headed the American delegation for crunch talks with Indian officials aimed at easing tensions following a recent series of tit-for-tat protectionist measures taken by each nation.
The US negotiators also held discussions with Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal to find a way out of the trade deadlock that has raised economic tensions between the two largest democracies in the world.
“Since India’s election period has now passed, USTR officials are visiting India for relationship-building with Indian government counterparts,” a USTR spokesperson said prior to the meeting in the Indian capital.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday that New Delhi was looking to resolve trade issues, many of which were discussed during the recent G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
“We are looking forward to a constructive engagement,” Kumar said.
US President Donald Trump has been steadily applying pressure on India to relax its tariff regime and allow easier access for American goods and trade to India.
However, the government of Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, who got a renewed mandate recently after being elected for a second term in office, has been pushing higher tariffs on a range of products coming from the US and tightening controls on foreign firms trying to expand in the Indian market.
Analysts believe that New Delhi is wary of Washington’s drive for a free trade agreement which it fears might impact its “Make in India” plan.
Last month the leaders of both the countries met in Osaka and agreed to sort out their differences but Trump’s recent tweeting on the issue has only served to further inflame the situation. On July 9, the president said: “India has long had a field day putting tariffs on American products. No longer acceptable.”
Pranay Kotasthane of the Takshashila Institution, a Bangalore-based think tank, said: “The current differences on the trade question can be easily resolved but Trump’s attitude isn’t helping.
“Notwithstanding Trump’s bluster, it’s in India’s interests to lower import duties. It would be beneficial as the path to ‘Make in India’ lies through buying from and selling to outside India.”
Kotasthane told Arab News: “This round of trade talks will help get us to a better position than we are currently in. There is scope for a few gives and takes in order to bring the tensions down on the trade front.
“Currently exports are a really small contributor to India’s growth story. We need to change that. Trade should become a ticket to prosperity for more Indians.”


Monsoon flooding death toll rises to 152 in South Asia

Updated 20 July 2019
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Monsoon flooding death toll rises to 152 in South Asia

  • At least 90 people have died in Nepal and 50 in northeastern India’s Assam state over the past week
  • South Asia’s monsoon rains, which hit the region from June to September, are crucial for the rain-fed crops planted during the season

GAUHATI, India: The death toll in monsoon flooding in South Asia has risen to 152 as millions of people and animals continue to face the brunt in three countries, officials said Saturday.
At least 90 people have died in Nepal and 50 in northeastern India’s Assam state over the past week. A dozen have been killed in Bangladesh.
Shiv Kumar, a government official in Assam, said 10 rare one-horned rhinos have died in Kaziranga National Park since the Brahmaputra River burst its banks, flooding the reserve.
Some 4.8 million people spread over 3,700 villages across the state are still affected by the floods, though the frequency of rains has decreased in the past 24 hours, the Assam Disaster Response Authority said. More than 2.5 million have also been hit by flooding in India’s Bihar state.
Amid the flooding, 20-year-old Imrana Khatoon delivered her first baby on a boat in floodwaters early Friday while on her way to a hospital in Assam’s flooded Gagalmari village, locals said. The woman and the newborn were brought back to their home without getting to the hospital.
Community health worker Parag Jyoti Das, who visited the family, said there were no post-delivery health complications. However, the mother and the child were moved to a hospital on a boat to the nearby town of Jhargaon because of unhygienic conditions due to floodwaters, Das said. The health center in Khatoon’s village was flooded and closed.
“I would have felt happier if the baby’s father was here,” said Khatoon, whose husband works in a hotel in the southern state of Kerala.
More than 147,000 people have taken shelter in 755 government-run camps across Assam, officials said.
Authorities warned they would take action against suppliers who were reported to be distributing poor quality rice and other essentials to marooned people and inmates of temporary shelters at some places.
“We have ordered the arrest of those unscrupulous elements supplying substandard materials and playing with the lives of the affected people,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s finance minister.
In Nepal, the Home Ministry said about 36,728 families were affected by the monsoon rains. The flooding and mudslides forced some 13,000 families to flee their homes.
In at least two of Nepal’s districts, helicopters were used to transport emergency food supplies, while other transport means were being used to move tents and other supplies to the victims.
South Asia’s monsoon rains, which hit the region from June to September, are crucial for the rain-fed crops planted during the season.