The US government is planning a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India in an effort to boost two-way trade that currently stands at $115 billion.

“I want to see a US-India FTA … a strategic view of our economic relationship could eventually lead to a roadmap for a US-India Free Trade Agreement,” US Ambassador to India Kenneth I Juster said here on Thursday.

Delivering his inaugural policy address on US-India Relations at Carnegie India, Juster said US is concerned about persistent trade deficit with its trade partners, including India.

He also said although bilateral trade has reached $115 billion in 2016 from $20 billion in 2001, there is still plenty of room to expand the flow of goods and services in both directions and, in the process, for trade to become more reciprocal.

Reforms welcomed “We welcome steps by India to continue its reform agenda, expand market access, and further enhance the protection of intellectual property. And we want to work with India to expeditiously resolve trade and investment disputes,” he said.

Juster, who was earlier Under Secretary at the US Commerce Department, urged India to take advantage of its growing ties with the US and transform itself as an alternative hub for US business in the Indo-Pacific region.

H-1B issue On the issue of H-1B visas, Juster said while the US continues to attract the largest number of immigrants into the country, it plans to address some of the “fundamental issues” into the various categories of their visa regime.

“The US is probably as open a country as any in the world and we probably take more immigrants per year than any other country in the world … We do have a serious and different type of visas and qualifications that have evolved over the years. The Congress keeps reviewing it periodically and that process is on in Washington. We are looking more broadly at how various categories of the visas are working,” he added.

He also clarified that the US does not intend to block H-1B or its extension in the near future.

Juster, who took over as the US Ambassador to India on December 1, said India and the US need to make “step-by-step” progress in defence trade and cooperation.

As a result, he said, both sides will announce major defence agreements in 2019 in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms; fighter aircraft production; and the co-development of next generation systems, including a Future Vertical Lift platform or Advanced Technology Ground Combat Vehicles.

‘Make in India’ “In line with India’s desire to produce more of its equipment in its own country, I want to emphasise that the United States is more than just another supplier. Major US defence companies are already in India producing components for complex defence systems,” he said.

He also added that in order to boost defence cooperation in India, both sides should also enhance military exchanges even as he pushed for greater defence deals under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).

“We seek to assist India’s efforts to build up its indigenous defence base and capabilities, as well as enhance the inter-operability of our two forces as major defence partners in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

Juster said he while Pakistan had been helpful in assisting US in the reconstruction process of war-torn Afghanistan, the reason why $255-million security aid was suspended was because they did not take enough measures to dismantle terror outfits in that country.

“We will not tolerate terrorism, cross-border terrorism or any form of terrorism or safe havens of any type. And we work closely with India on issues of information sharing and other types on issues of terrorism in the region,” he added.