I learned this little bit of trivia (about the apples, not the Shishkaberries) last month on WCIT’s Eastern Washington trip, and have been thinking about it ever since. By sponsoring two popular Indian cricket teams, the Washington Apple Commission hopes to increase brand recognition of Washington apples in a quickly growing market, and the Washington Apple mascot eagerly passing out apples at Indian cricket games is an example of how important India has become for many U.S. industries.
One of the main reasons that U.S.-India trade policy made WCIT’s 2013 Policy Priorities list is that U.S.-India trade relations have become a hot topic, especially this summer. Over the last couple of months alone, those of us closely following trade policy have seen India come up again and again. In June, Secretary Kerry traveled to India for the fourth annual Strategic Dialogue, and in July Vice President Biden visited the country to discuss trade and security issues. To put this in perspective, this is the first time a Vice President has visited India in three decades. U.S.-India trade has grown to $100 billion annually and has potential to grow much more, so both countries have great incentive to move our trade relationship ahead.
Of course, U.S.-India trade relations aren’t all mascots and cheering crowds. When the VP traveled to India, 40 business groups sent him a letter urging progress on Indian trade policy issues affecting U.S. businesses, as more than a third of the members of Congress called on President Obama to address India’s trade barriers. With Congress, USTR, the President, Vice President and Secretary of State all placing unprecedented attention on resolving trade challenges with India, we may soon see some positive progress in opening up the Indian market to more Washington companies.
Technically, India has recently made some progress in lowering trade barriers. Last month India announced that it is relaxing some foreign direct investment (FDI) rules and is reversing some local content requirements for private sector purchases of electronic products. While these are steps in the right direction, many U.S. officials and business leaders do not believe they are enough. Tariffs remain high (something mentioned by most Washington state companies I’ve interviewed), and according to a recent announcement by Indian Finance Minister Chidambaram, they may become higher for some goods. U.S. companies remain concerned about intellectual property protection risks, unpredictable regulations and tax laws, local manufacturing requirements, and preferential market access policies. (Of course, India has a few bones to pick with the U.S. as well, particularly the limit on U.S. work visas that harms Indian IT companies.)
Even with the current trade barriers, India is still a hot market for Washington products. These days, Washington apples, airplanes, IT services and coffee products (just to name a few examples!) are flowing into the country. Sales of Washington apples, for instance, have increased over 20 percent every year for five years in a row! The Washington apple – Indian cricket partnership demonstrates the potential that Washington companies have in India, which is why WCIT will continue to advocate for policies to help our companies reach that potential. If we do our job, maybe someday soon we’ll see an Indian mango mascot at the Seahawks game…