Vice President Joe Biden urges closer U.S.-Indian trade ties

July 24, 2013 at 11:08 AM
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MUMBAI, July 24 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday urged India's business leaders to jump at the chance to enhance U.S. ties because both nations would benefit.

"I would ask you to consider the historic opportunity that is in front of us," Biden said in remarks at the Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai, India's financial center. "Imagine what our two countries can achieve together in this 21st century -- not only for one another but for economic stability of the region, as well as the world.

There are clear, basic principles going forward, Biden said, including a trade-and-investment partnership that's open and fair that grows both economies.

Another tenet would be "a security partnership of first resort where we look instinctively to each other to help the Asia-Pacific region to rise," he said, as well as "closer ties than ever between our citizens, universities, civil societies and businesses."

Biden spoke of the need for greater ease in conducting business with India and called for more economic reforms, pointing up frustrations many U.S. businesses have had as they tried to break into India's consumer market.

"India is no longer an economic island and will continue to rise as an economic power," Biden said, adding it was time to take his relationship "to new level for each of our own well-being. The question is how do we bridge the gap between this vision and the present reality?"

Growing trade between India and the United States "requires us to be candid with each other about the obstacles that exist when it comes to a business environment," Biden said, citing intellectual property protection, India's buy-local requirements, limits on foreign direct investment, inconsistent tax treatment and barriers to market access.

"But we all know they have to be negotiated and worked through in order to meet the potential of this relationship," he said

The Bilateral Investment Treaty is a good place to start, Biden said, because it would give investors in India and the United States more certainty and predictability, as well as fair treatment under a single consistent set of rules.

"But the choices are not ours to make, they're India's to make. We could both do fine without one another," Biden said. "We believe what is in our interest, and a powerful, growing, vibrant Indian economy we believe is in our interest. ... And there are certain basic rules of the road of the 21st century that have to be met as a practical matter, not dictated by us, but by the marketplace in order to be able to get there."

After his speech at the exchange, Biden met with several Indian business leaders, calling the discussions "full and frank."

"There was an honest discussion about how both governments -- the Indian government as well -- could be productive in reducing trade barriers that have an impact on trade and commerce," he added.

In recent months, U.S. businesses and congressional members have complained in letters to U.S. officials about how India's policies "distort" trade and investment and "discourage" innovation. Particularly upsetting is the buy-India mandate and recent Indian decisions denying patent protections for drugs.

Biden said after the meeting that India and the United States are "not at odds on any strategic objective," but need to find ways to advance their relationship.

"We mean what we say when we say that the relationship between India and the U.S. has unlimited potential and there is no reason why trade, commerce and intercourse between our countries can't increase exponentially over time," he said.

Biden stressed that the two countries share the common goal of empowering the middle class. The United States is focused on "reinforcing the middle class" with good jobs, better access to healthcare and opportunities for retiring with dignity, while India hopes to "generate the largest middle class in the history of humanity" to deal with poverty and raise standards of living, he said.

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