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Chennai, Jan. 9

INDIAN customs duties are high and the peak rate of 32 per cent is the highest in Asia, Dr Abdul Quader Shaikh, Regional Coordinator for Africa, Middle East and South Asia, International Trade Administration, US Department of Commerce, said here on Monday. Speaking on `WTO and Trade Issues' at a meeting, jointly organised by the Office of Public Affairs, US Consulate General in South India and the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, Dr Shaikh said that tariff rates in the US were among the lowest in the world a fact that is reflected in the huge trade deficit that US runs.

When pointed out that India's stand was that one should not see what the Indian customs duties are today without taking into account how far they have been brought down over the years, Dr Shaikh said "we are living in a contemporary world."

Dr Shaikh said that `Africa Growth and Opportunities Act' of the US, passed in 2000, was a big help to the African countries who could export to the US duty-free.

Mr G. Srikanth, a chartered accountant, whose firm provides advisory services on anti-dumping cases, pointed out that the US gives its 25,000-odd cotton farmers an annual subsidy of $4 billion, against the farmers' annual cost of production of $3 billion.

He said the subsidy depresses the world prices of cotton, putting into peril the very livelihood of 11 million cotton farmers in Africa.

Responding to this, Dr Shaikh said the US had agreed to do away with the subsidy in 2006. He said studies had shown that US subsidies were not hurting African cotton business. There were a whole lot of other issues, he said, such as marketing the products.

Answering a question, Dr Shaikh said that the about 60 per cent of cases initiated against the US under WTO's `dispute settlement mechanism' went against the US.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 10, 2006)
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