NEW DELHI: India and the US are close to concluding an initial limited trade package followed by a possible bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), New Delhi said on Thursday.”;There was a desire expressed to conclude this initial limited trade package and recognising the complementarities of the India-USA bilateral trade, discussed the possibility of an FTA,”; the commerce and industry ministry said in a release on Thursday, after an informal discussion between commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal and US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross.”;The principals also conversed on the ongoing India-USA trade discussions and appreciated the substantial progress made by both sides on most of the outstanding issues,”; the ministry said.The informal tele-conversation took place on July 16.The two sides have been trying to thrash out a trade package with limited scope with the long term aim of an FTA since last year amid a plethora of unresolved trade issues.Business leaders from both sides also pitched for an FTA at the India-US CEO Forum on Tuesday. The forum coincided with the India-US Commercial Dialogue which is co-chaired by Goyal and Ross.Goyal had told Parliament in February that at that point, India was not negotiating a comprehensive FTA with the US.”;No, Sir. Presently, India is not negotiating a comprehensive FTA with the US,”; he had said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha in February.The US is keen on a deal ahead of its presidential elections in November and had indicated that an initial deal could include restoration of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) benefits to India and market access for each other”;s agricultural products with a long-term view of a broader trade agreement.New Delhi has demanded exemption from high duties imposed by the US on certain steel and aluminium products and market access for its farm products, while the US has sought market access for its farm and manufacturing and products, medical devices, and lower duties for certain ICT products. It had also sought data-related relaxations, including in the ecommerce policy that India is working on. The latest draft of the policy says companies that store or mirror Indian users”; data overseas will be subject to periodic audits and also make available any data the government seeks within 72 hours or pay a penalty.77007760People issuesAlso, in a possible move towards a totalisation agreement that would help Indian professionals avoid making social security contributions which are not refunded, the US has said that its statutory requirements would have to be fulfilled by India.On the issue of the pending US-India Social Security Totalisation Agreement, Ross mentioned that the statutory requirements of the US have to be fulfilled by India.Most countries require that workers have at least one year of domestic coverage to be entitled to totalization benefits, and their combined US and domestic periods of coverage must equal or exceed the statutory minimum in effect in that country.”;He offered to arrange a meeting between US Social Security Administrator and concerned Indian officials to discuss and find a possible solution,”; the ministry said.India also raised the issue of Washington denying New Delhi the opportunity to become a supplier in its government contracts as 24 products such as footwear as they are designated as “;child labour sectors”;.”;In response to minister Goyal”;s concern on US keeping certain Indian products (24 items) under TVPRA (Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act)”; list and designating them as “;child labour sectors”;; thereby denying them the opportunity to participate in supply contracts of US government agencies, Secretary Ross offered to set up a meeting between the labour department officials of both sides,”; the ministry said in the release.Animal protectionOn the agenda was also the US ban on import of wild catch shrimp from India on the premise that fishing practices followed in India were non-compliant with US regulations to protect sea turtles. Goyal shared the various conservation measures taken by Indian maritime states in protecting the sea turtles.Secretary Ross appreciated India”;s concerns and agreed to facilitate a discussion between the officials of US state department and Office of Marine Conservation with the Indian Department of Fisheries and Ministry of Forest and Environment, in this regard, according to the statement.x

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