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India ready for investment treaty talks with U.S.: commerce chief

India's Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma attends the opening plenary session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) India Economic
India's Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma attends the opening plenary session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) India Economic

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - India is ready to begin talks with the United States on a bilateral investment treaty as part of its effort to reinvigorate ties with a valued trade partner, the country's commerce and industry minister said on Friday.

"We have said that 'yes, we are ready for it. We are in favor,'" Anand Sharma told reporters after meetings with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and other U.S. officials.

Sharma said there was no date for the first round of talks on the pact, which would set terms and condition for U.S. and Indian investment in each other's country.

"No, it was discussed today, and we have signaled our acceptance," Sharma said.

The United States and China agreed this week to restart talks on a bilateral investment treaty, a move welcomed by the U.S. business community as a sign of new Chinese President Xi Jinping's commitment to economic reform.

U.S. business groups have been anxious for a similar commitment from India and were disappointed when a date for talks was not announced after Secretary of State John Kerry visited the country in late June.

Although the United States runs a far larger trade deficit with China than with India, India has in some ways replaced China this year as the No. 1 target of complaints from the U.S. business community and members of Congress.

In recent months, there has been a stream of letters from business groups and lawmakers complaining about Indian policies they say discriminate against American firms or undermine U.S. intellectual property rights, especially for pharmaceuticals.

Sharma told reporters that India was far more welcoming of American business than the current perception, but admitted it must do more to get that message across.

He also said there was no reason the United States and India could not meet the U.S.-India Business Council's goal of boosting bilateral trade in goods and services to $500 billion annually by 2020 "if we make a real effort."

Current two-way trade of about $106 billion annually is much below the potential, Sharma said.

On other issues, Sharma said the United States and India had agreed to work together to ensure that the December meeting of the World Trade Organization in Bali was a success.

"We have agreed to put together a work program. Our chief negotiators, senior officials and our ambassadors in Geneva will meet to discuss so there is a broad consensus around the key issues of trade facilitation and food security," he said.

"We will work very closely with all our partners ... with the United States of America, other principle stakeholders, the key countries, to ensure the outcome is a positive one."

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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