May 25, 2016

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary
U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C. 20520

The Honorable Penny Pritzker
Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce,
Washington D.C. 20230

The Honorable Michael Froman
United States Trade Representative
Office of the United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street NW Washington D.C. 20508
 
RE: Prime Minister Modi’s Upcoming Visit to Washington D.C. and the Economic Agenda
 
Dear Secretary Kerry, Secretary Pritzker, and Trade Representative Froman:

On behalf of the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) and our 350 member companies, I write to you regarding Prime Minister Modi’s upcoming visit to Washington D.C. and potential areas for engagement on the trade agenda. USIBC believes it is an opportune time to cement the progress made on trade over the past several years and to provide you with a suggested agenda for your discussions in the weeks ahead. Looking back to when Prime Minister Modi took office only two years ago reminds us that we have come a long way.

In 2014, our trade discussions were largely stalled -  our U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum (TPF) had not met in several years, the U.S.-India Strategic & Commercial Dialogue lacked a commercial component, and our two governments were hardly meeting for informal trade discussions. Today, we applaud the fact that two TPF discussions have occurred since 2014, a very successful Strategic & Commercial Dialogue was launched in 2015 and is expected to again convene in August 2016, and many more informal meetings between our trade negotiators and policymakers have taken place. It is clear that we have recharged the trade relationship with India. Though our progress has been steady, we still have much to do.

First, the U.S. Government should consider formally re-launching our Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations with the Government of India as soon as possible. While both governments took a break from the negotiations on account of revising the model BITs, it is important for us to come back to the negotiating table to develop a way-forward on concluding a high-quality BIT.

Second, USIBC supports India’s membership into APEC and would urge the U.S. Government to support India’s membership along with our APEC partners. USIBC r
ecognizes that participation in APEC is a two-way street, and we similarly have been encouraging the Government of India to participate in APEC discussion groups of their choice as an observer to better understand the requirements of membership. While USIBC appreciates that the U.S. Government may have other trading partners that it also would like to nominate for membership into APEC, we believe that the U.S. Government could nominate India for APEC membership without slighting other trade partners. This is especially true give the size and importance of India’s economy.

Finally, USIBC recommends that the U.S. Government develop a longer-term strategic trade goal with India: namely its eventual membership into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and/or a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA). We recognize that much work remains on both sides before such a trade deal would be politically feasible, but now more than ever we need to set our sights on a long-term trade-focused goal, and take small steps towards that goal. As you will agree, international trade can be a difficult topic for domestic politics, as we are seeing in our own U.S. elections. Nevertheless, USIBC believes that we are at a moment in time where the U.S. Government ought to double down its efforts to secure its trade relationship with India. India is a trading partner of utmost importance and U.S. companies and citizens are better served by working with the Government of India as they continue to liberalize trade. We have made significant progress on trade in the past two years, and we are confident that with the right focus and determination, together we can continue to do much more. In the words of President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, “Chalien Saath Saath, Forward Together We Go.”

Sincerely,
Dr. Mukesh Aghi
President, U.S.-India Business Council
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