India has opened up its market to the American farming industry in as many as 12 different categories, a top Biden administration trade official has told lawmakers as some influential senators raised the issue of wheat and rice subsidies in India and alleged forced labour in the country's shrimp industry.

US Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai, responding to a series of questions from the senators during a congressional hearing on trade convened by the US Finance Committee, defended the Biden administration's actions.

“We are opening markets for hard-working American families and communities, especially our rural communities. Through negotiations, our administration has secured over $21 billion in new agricultural market access in the last three years,” she said.

“For example, after the US and India terminated seven WTO (World Trade Organisation) disputes, India agreed to remove retaliatory tariffs on several US products. This means improved access for chickpeas, lentils, almonds, walnuts and apples, benefiting farmers across our country, including in Michigan, Oregon, California and Washington,” Tai said.

This means more market access for turkey, duck, blueberries and cranberries benefiting the farmers in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts and Minnesota, she added.

"Trade should work for all Americans. Our goal is to stop pitting Americans against each other in our trade policy and this is why we are taking unprecedented steps to incorporate more voices into trade policymaking,” Tai said.

Tai said enforcing trade rules continues to be a priority this year for the administration.

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“We will continue to level the playing field for American workers and businesses. We are vigorously enforcing our trade agreements, defending American jobs, and making sure more people enjoy the benefits of trade,” she said.

Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, alleged that India’s wheat subsidies are distorting prices and directly hurting American farmers.

“Without enforcement, our trade laws aren’t worth the paper they are written on,” he said.

“India’s wheat subsidies are distorting prices and making it harder for Oregon’s farmers to compete in the Asian market. Mexico’s illegal fishing practices are hurting the environment and its harmful energy regulations are undermining American clean energy suppliers,” he said.

“China has a rap sheet of unfair subsidies and trade practices so long, we’d be here until dinnertime just to get through it. But I will spare everyone the filibuster. Every single one of these unfair practices by foreign countries is directly hurting workers and companies in the United States,” he said.

“There’s a lot more USTR can be doing with the tools it has—whether that’s raising issues directly with trading partners, starting dispute settlement, or opening 301 investigations into unfair trade practices.

"That’s the only way to hold trade cheats accountable and level the playing field for American workers and businesses,” Wyden said.

Senator Steve Daines said that the US has been a leading producer of lentils and access to India is very important for its farmers.

Ranking member Mike Crapo from Idaho targeted China for unfair trade practices and charged that the USTR had not taken any action against them.

“USTR has yet to take a single enforcement action against China, period. Whether at the WTO or under section 301 or under the Phase 1 deal. Nothing,” he said.

Tai said that the Biden administration has secured $21 billion in market access over the last three years.

“The safeguard agreement that we renewed with that has allowed for high-quality US beef from your state to increase access to a growing Japanese market. That includes the 12 tariff categories with India, a growing market, growing opportunity for US exporters,” she said.

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Responding to a question from Senator Bill Cassidy on a whistleblower's allegations of forced labour in the Indian shrimp industry, Tai said she has raised this issue with her Indian counterpart. “It’s not an easy conversation. We will continue to champion this particular issue,” she said.

Cassidy also raised the issue of rice subsidy by India.

“There's also a concern from our rice people who say if it were not for Indian subsidies of rice, they would have roughly $850 million more in export,” he said.