Senator urges India to give greater market access to US firms

Washington: With India approving FDI in multi-brand retail, an influential US Senator on Thursday asked New Delhi to take the next steps by providing greater market access to American companies and increasing the FDI cap on insurance and banking sectors.

Senator Mark Warner, Co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus, in an address at the Capitol Hill at an event organised by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think-tank, called for accelerating the pace of negotiations on India-US Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT).

BIT, he said, is the next step forward in the India-US relationship, which he said will be the "key" relationship in the coming decades.

Last year, Warner and nine other Senators had written to US President Barack Obama, to conclude BIT with India as soon as possible. A year later, Warner hoped that this would be achieved soon.

At the event, Warner urged India to provide greater market access to US companies and increase the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) cap on insurance and banking sectors.

The event at the Capitol Hill was held to release a report "BIT and Beyond: Advancing the US-India Economic Relationship" by CSIS. Authored by Matthew Stokes and Niraj Patel, the report argues a strong case for BIT between India and the US.

Warner said, this BIT will lay the ground work for what he hoped the next big step, a free trade agreement between India and the US.

The Senator announced that he would be heading to India next year leading a Congressional delegation to Hyderabad and Kolkata cities among others.

In his remarks, the Senator also called for speedy implementation of the civilian nuclear deal, which is stuck on the differences on the crucial liability issues between the two countries. .

Former top American diplomat, Karl Inderfuth, who is now the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Studies at CSIS, said timing is certainly right for reframing the US trade and investment relations with India. He noted that several factors are converging to push a BIT with India higher on the economic agenda.

First, India holds great promise as a potential partner for the US. Secondly, even as the volume of trade between the two countries continues to grow, the US share of total FDI in India is declining. Third, other countries are pushing ahead with their trade and investment ties with India, he argued.

The Deputy Indian Ambassador to the US, Arun K Singh, said that there is a sense that a rise of India is in the US interest.

There is also a sense that a consolidation of India-US economic relations is in mutual interest. He called for greater US collaboration in key sectors like energy, health, education, infrastructure, and agriculture.

Speaking on BIT, the Indian diplomat said it should not be seen as a catcher.

"It should not be seen as a standalone. It has to be in the context of where we want to take the relationship," Singh said.