New Delhi: America’s top diplomat told Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday his country’s position on key WTO trade talks was at odds with his desire to open up the Indian economy.
John Kerry met Modi for the first time on Friday, a day after the World Trade Organization said its members had failed to agree a landmark global customs pact following India’s insistence that it be allowed to stockpile food.
Kerry, who held talks with senior Indian officials on Thursday, has voiced optimism about expanding cooperation between the world’s two largest democracies after Modi’s right-wing government won a decisive electoral mandate.
But a US official told reporters after the talks that Kerry had criticised India’s role in scuppering the WTO deal.
“We note that the prime minister is very focused on his signal of open to business and creating opportunities and therefore the failure of implementing TFA (Trade Facilitation Agreement) sends a confusing signal and undermines that very message that he is seeking to send about India,” the official quoted Kerry as saying.
“While we understand India’s food security concerns, the trade facilitation agreement is one that will bring tremendous benefit, particularly to the world’s poor. India’s actions therefore are not in keeping with the prime minister’s vision.”
India, which has sought since independence to eradicate hunger, buys grain at above-market prices from farmers and sells the food at subsidised prices to some of the hundreds of millions of poor people.
The stockpiling is popular with poor voters in the world’s largest democracy, but wealthy nations say that the policy distorts global markets.
During the meeting Kerry urged India to work with the United States to move the WTO process forward, the official said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official also said Modi told Kerry that he wanted to bolster trust between the two nations.
“The relationship will always be in the process of improvement and there will always be areas of difference, but what is critical is what we do to enhance and build on our trusts,” he quoted Modi as saying.
Other issues raised during the talks were climate change and Afghanistan.
Kerry was accompanied at the meeting by US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker while Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was among the Indian officials present.