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US hoping to boost India trade ties

The United States hopes to give a huge boost to its trade ties with India in an upcoming visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, US officials said Thursday (July 24).

WASHINGTON: The United States hopes to give a huge boost to its trade ties with India in an upcoming visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, US officials said Thursday (July 24).

"Our trade has already grown fivefold since the year 2000 to almost 100 billion (dollars) annually," Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal told US lawmakers. "We can grow that fivefold again in the years to come. And we are committed to addressing the inevitable frictions over trade through dialogue and engagement."

Kerry is to leave for India on July 31 to take part in the fifth annual US-India Strategic Dialogue, and he will be accompanied by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, the State Department announced. "This visit will mark the first US cabinet-level visit to New Delhi since the new Indian government was elected and underscores the enormous strategic importance of the US-India relationship and our hopes for the future of the relationship," deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

The US hopes to "relaunch the relationship" and focus on such issues as "reinvigorating trade and investment" while also highlighting "energy cooperation, including civil nuclear energy," Biswal said. She stressed that one of the brightest areas was "helping India meet its growing energy needs" and trying to seal contracts to export American LNG as well as "cutting-edge nuclear energy technology."

American officials will also be seeking to break the ice with new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi was once persona non grata in the United States due to allegations that he turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat in 2002 when he was leader of the western state. He has denied wrongdoing.

The United States has rushed to make up for lost time since it became clear that Modi would cruise to victory in elections held in April and May. His Hindu nationalist swept to India's biggest electoral mandate in three decades.

"While India is a large market, a commercial relationship remains underdeveloped relative to its potential," Assistant Commerce Secretary Arun Kumar told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. "With a new government in charge, the timing may be ripe to improve our bilateral trade relationship. From 2000 to 2013, US-India two-way trade has grown from $19 billion in goods and services to about $97 billion," he said, adding "the potential is indeed vast."

But he cautioned challenges still remained, including protecting intellectual property rights, high tariffs and a regulatory system which lacks transparency. "For India to... reach the potential as a strategic power across the Asia region, across the globe, its first order of business will be revitalizing its economy," added Biswal. "And we have a deep interest in partnership with India in that quest and partnering with Prime Minister Modi in that quest." 

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