US senator bats for including India in Trans-Pacific Partnership

PTI Washington | Updated on February 27, 2021

The US needs to look at India as a potential addition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a top American senator has advised the Biden administration.

The partnership was a proposed trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US signed on February 4, 2016. However, former president Donald Trump withdrew the US’ signature from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January 2017.

In the absence of the US, the rest of the countries negotiated a new trade agreement called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which incorporates most of the provisions of the TPP, and it came into force on December 30, 2018.

The suggestion by Republican Senator John Cornyn came as the Joe Biden administration is looking to rejoin the TPP. “I would suggest that we look at India as a potential addition to the TPP. We’ve grown much closer to India. Of course, they’re the world’s largest democracy, one that believes in the rule of law as we do, and a great counterweight as well,” Cornyn said on Friday.

He was speaking during the confirmation hearing of Katherine C Tai for the position of US Trade Representative. “We have entered into what’s known as the quad when it comes to national security cooperation with India, and I think it would be appropriate to include India in those discussions as well. I guess that’s not so much a question as it is a statement,” the senator said.

In November 2017, India, Japan, the US and Australia gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the “Quad” to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence.

Making a reference of China, Cornyn said that the US needs to improve its negotiating position on economic and national security matters by allying with friends.

“So, I would certainly encourage... and the administration to look at re-entering that (TPP). I thought that was a good idea by the Obama administration. And, I regret that the Trump administration decided only bilateral trade agreements made sense and not multilateral agreements, especially under these unique circumstances,” said the Republican Senator from Texas.

US Senator from Montana Steve Daines during the hearing raised the issue of high tariffs imposed by India on pulses from the US. “Access to India’s pulse crop market is very important for our Montana farmers, for Montana jobs, and for our economy. Fortunately, as you know, US pulse crops face high tariffs. A very unfair playing field there with India,” he said.

Last year, several senators wrote a letter to the then president, Trump, urging him to prioritise the issue. “He (Trump) took that letter directly to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi, in fact. In fact, the president sent me back a picture as he hand-delivered that letter to Prime Minister Modi during a visit,” Daines said. He also asked if the US will commit to engage with India on this issue and prioritise the removal of those tariffs and other barriers to trade.

Responding to the Montanan senator, Tai said, “I know that our interests with India are manifold. I commit to you to having an awareness of the importance of pulse crops trade.” “And if confirmed, I look forward to engaging with the Indians on our trade relationship and will keep the pulse crops in mind,” she said.

On the question of TPP, Tai said even in 2021, the basic formula of TPP which was to work with partners and with whom the US has very important shared interests, economically and strategically and with the challenge of China in mind, is still a sound formula.

“I think that the formula for TPP, which is for the US to engage robustly with countries and economies with which it has a lot of shared interests, economic interests and also strategic interests, in particular with respect to those interests in Asia and with respect to the challenges coming from China, that is a solid equation, if you will,” Tai said.

Published on February 27, 2021

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