United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Thursday said India is among the world’s most protectionist countries, but they are trying to negotiate a limited trade deal to resolve disputes between the two countries, Reuters reported.

India and US were expected to resolve their trade differences and announce a deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to United States last month. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had said that both sides had “narrowed the areas of difference” during negotiations, and had denied that trade deal failed. Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal had gone to New York City to negotiate with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

“The US is the least protectionist country of the major powers,” Ross said on the sidelines of the India Economic Summit in New Delhi. “India is, if not the most protectionist, certainly one of the most protectionist.”

“All that we are looking for is to level the playing field,” he added.

Speaking on the trade deal, Goyal said: “So it is a more of a question of scheduling time and scheduling calls and meetings that will determine how long that will take. But I don’t see any big issue that is holding it back for any reason,” according to PTI.

Ross said there was no structural reason why the trade deal could not happen quickly.

India wants an exemption from high duties on its steel and aluminium products, resumption of preferential trade treatment under the Generalised System of Preferences and greater market access.

However, Ross dismissed this and said the US does not believe India is eligible for the GSP programme. He said the terms were being renegotiated and a resolution would be “a very good step toward free trade”. “GSP [reinstatement] could be called a limited trade deal,” Ross said.

The US government had terminated India’s designation as a beneficiary of the GSP programme in June, claiming it had not assured the US that it would “provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets”. India was the largest beneficiary of the programme in 2017, which allowed for $5.6 billion, around Rs 3,896 crore, worth of Indian exports to enter the country duty-free. India had responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on 28 products imported from the United States, including almonds, apples, and walnuts.

The US wants greater market access for its farm and manufacturing products, dairy items and medical devices. It has also raised concerns over a high trade deficit with India.

Foreign Secretary Gokhale had last month said he was optimistic that the two countries would reach an agreement “fairly soon”. “We have made significant progress in that regard, and we are quite confident that we will make further progress in the future,” he had added.

During his bilateral meet with Modi, United States President Donald Trump had also said the two countries would have a trade deal “very soon”. “We are doing very well...Bob Lighthizer, who’s right here, was negotiating with India and their very capable representatives. We’ll have the larger deal down the road a little bit, but we will have a trade deal very soon.”

However, no timeline was given by either side.

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