WASHINGTON — White House officials said Friday that several trade issues are among the key topics President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss at a two-day summit here beginning Monday.
The Obama administration is billing Modi’s visit as historic, as it marks the first time Obama and Modi, who became prime minister in May, will meet in person.
While the two leaders will have a full slate of international crises to discuss, ranging from the coalition air strikes against the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the industry will be closely watching for any signs of progress on trade issues.
India is an important apparel-sourcing hub for importers, as well as a burgeoning market for U.S. exports and for retailers trying to expand their brick-and-mortar footprint in the country. Apparel and textile imports from India to the U.S. rose 8 percent to $6.5 billion for the year ended July 31.
A senior administration official, who spoke on background with reporters, said several bilateral trade issues, including a stalled World Trade Organization agreement, would be part of the discussions next week.
“We have had a robust and ongoing conversation with Indian officials on trade, on the type of enabling environment we think would be conducive to greatly expanding trade between our two countries, and we expect that to continue to be a focus of our conversation, both in areas of convergence and in areas where we have concerns,” the official said. “We are looking for ways we can work together and break the gap and bring our two countries closer on those issues. That would include issues such as intellectual property and various constraints on investment, and it would also include ongoing conversations about the Trade Facilitation Agreement in the WTO and how we can move toward implementation of the TFA, while addressing the long-standing concerns on food security that the Indian side has put forward in a constructive way.”
WTO members failed to finalize implementation of the TFA by an Aug. 1 deadline, which stalled momentum on the pact aimed at reducing trade barriers and eliminating border transaction costs and called into question the future of the global trade body itself.
Several governments and trade experts laid the blame of the stalled accord on India, which expressed concerns about food security as a primary reason for opposing the accord.
“There has been a lot of criticism aimed at the new government in India, based on their actions at the WTO, and that has basically blocked anything from moving forward at the WTO until there is a resolution of the TFA implementation,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “In many ways, things have been positive because trade with India has been growing, particularly in apparel, so it is ironic that on the ground we see closer ties and more trade, but clearly at the bigger-picture, policy level, everything is colored by the WTO stalemate.”
Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said the TFA is the biggest issue for AAFA, adding the association would like to see that issue raised at the summit.
“We were very disappointed when India blocked the TFA,” Herman said. “The fact is that there is no harmonization at all among Customs [agencies] where every single country sets different requirements for bringing product into their country and sometimes even restricts which port you bring them into.…The TFA would set up a formal mechanism” that would prevent that from happening, he said.