India's stance on WTO deal sends 'wrong message' Kerry tells Modi

When Kerry met Modi he hoped to revive a relationship clouded by mistrust; India's blocking of a trade pact casts doubt on his optimism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 11:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 1:20am


US Secretary of State John Kerry told Narendra Modi that India's stance on a WTO trade deal sent the wrong message, as he met the country's new prime minister for the first time yesterday.

Kerry has expressed optimism about expanding cooperation between the world's two largest democracies during a visit aimed at reviving a relationship clouded by mistrust.

But a raft of disputes has cast a shadow over those hopes, with India on Thursday blocking a major World Trade Organisation pact on customs procedures.

During the meeting - aimed at breaking the ice with a leader once shunned by Washington - Kerry told Modi India's stance on the deal was at odds with his desire to open up the country's economy. "We note that the prime minister is very focused on his signal of 'open to business and creating opportunities' and therefore the failure of implementing TFA [Trade Facilitation Agreement] sends a confusing signal and undermines that very message that he is seeking to send about India," Kerry said.

"While we understand India's food security concerns, the trade facilitation agreement is one that will bring tremendous benefit, particularly to the world's poor. India's actions therefore are not in keeping with the prime minister's vision."

Modi told Kerry that while areas of difference would always exist, "what is critical is what we do to enhance and build on our trust".

But Modi told Kerry developed nations needed to display greater understanding of the difficulties faced by the developing world in meeting the needs of their poor populations.

The Press Trust of India national news agency, meanwhile, quoted commerce ministry officials as saying India remains committed to the deal as long as its demands for concessions on its anti-poverty food stockpiling deal are met.

The WTO meets again in September and "we are prepared to engage on day one with a clear understanding that our position with regard to food security and our commitment to Trade Facilitation Agreement [TFA] is 100 per cent firm," said the official, who could not be named due to ministry rules.

Earlier, Kerry said the US wanted "to really take the relationship to a new place", following a series of diplomatic spats.

Washington has little rapport with Modi, a Hindu nationalist who was refused a US visa in 2005 over allegations that he turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots as leader of the western state of Gujarat.

The US has sought to put relations with India on firmer ground after the Modi visa row and a crisis in December when the US arrested an Indian diplomat for allegedly mistreating her servant. But new disputes have arisen.