Kerry meets Swaraj trade on the agenda

New Delhi: The US Secretary of State John Kerry’s two-day Indo-US strategic dialogue begins with what can be seen as an increasing eagerness by the US to bolster ties with the South Asian nation.

Kerry, who arrived in India on Wednesday, met finance minister Arun Jaitley and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj as he held meetings with the Narendra Modi government while seeking to reboot a relationship seen as a bulwark against a rising China.

The secretary of state is co-chairing the 5th India-US strategic dialogue with Sushma Swaraj on Thursday. The Dialogues attendees are senior representatives of various ministries including home and defence. Union Minister of State for Commerce (Independent charge) Nirmala Sitharaman is also participating in the Dialogue which will explore ways to strengthen bilateral business ties.

The two sides are keen to lock in “transformative initiatives” to make Modi’s September visit to the US result-oriented in spheres of energy, skill-development, defence and security. India will also take up the issue of NSA snooping with Kerry.

 Kerry however has already pointed out his main aim which is to press New Delhi to drop its opposition to global trade reforms and sign the pact with the July 31 deadline looming.

India threatens to block a worldwide reform of customs rules, saying it must be accompanied by a parallel agreement allowing developing countries more freedom to subsidise and stockpile food grains. This due to the large amount of its population relying on agriculture for sustenance. The country has stood defiant to the deal as it points out the negative impact on such a deal to the farmers of India, who are already under pressure with the lack of monsoon.

Ministry of external affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the scheduled meetings between Swaraj and Kerry are “expected to explore new frontiers”, “enhance convergences between the two countries” and also “explore transformative initiatives”.

While Kerry pushes India to sign the deal which the World Trade Organisation says could provide a trillion dollar stimulus to the global economy. “In this regard, as we work with our trading partners around the world, India must decide where it fits in the global trading system. Its commitment to a rules-based trading order and its willingness to fulfil its obligations will be a key indication,” Kerry said in an article in The Economic Times.

India and the US have already clashed at the WTO, with Washington saying Delhi’s 11th hour resistance could kill a deal that could create 21 million jobs.

The visit will see the first engagement with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that took power in May promising to put India back on a high growth path.

So far, the new administration has moved slowly on reforms, and its hardening stance at the WTO suggests a more nationalist response on key issues than the Congress party’s centre-left government.

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