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US seeks to revive trade with India after WTO row

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US Trade Representative Michael Froman was speaking in New Delhi before the first meeting in four years of a key trade panel on which representatives from the world's largest economy and the emerging market giant sit.

[NEW DELHI The United States is keen to expand trade with India, a US official said on Monday, after the two countries settled a bitter row over food subsidies and President Barack Obama announced he would visit in January.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman was speaking in New Delhi before the first meeting in four years of a key trade panel on which representatives from the world's largest economy and the emerging market giant sit.

"We believe in the promise of India," Mr Froman told a business audience. "Let's deliver on that promise." Two-way trade between the US and India currently stands at US$100 billion and the countries aim to boost the figure to US$500 billion but have set no deadline.

The nations reached a breakthrough earlier this month in a food subsidies spat that threatened to derail a landmark World Trade Organisation pact to ease global trade barriers.

By easing the cost of doing business, the Trade Facilitation Agreement - set to be approved by the WTO's General Council soon - will be "win-win" for developed and developing nations, Mr Froman said.

"Some suggest the Indian and US breakthrough (unlocking the global deal) may have saved the multinational trading system," Mr Froman said.

In any event, the compromise "could not have been possible without the personal engagement" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Obama, said Mr Froman.

The two men are said to have struck up a good rapport during Mr Modi's hugely successful US visit last month.

"They gave our partnership a mantra... 'further together we go'," Mr Froman said.

Analysts say the US-India relationship is now moving ahead on all fronts from economic, political to military after plunging to a low last year following the US arrest of an Indian diplomat.

The breakthrough over the WTO deal cleared the path for Mr Obama's acceptance of Mr Modi's invitation to be "chief guest" at India's Republic Day parade - a display of military might and ethnic diversity. Mr Obama will be the first sitting US president to visit India twice.

Mr Froman will meet Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitaraman on Tuesday for the first session of the US-India Trade Policy Forum since 2010.

Resumption of the panel's deliberations marked an "important development" and "historic turn in India-US relations", Mr Froman said issues on the table involve Indian workers paying social security in the US, market access to agricultural products and the thorny topic of patents.

Mr Froman said headway in areas such as Indian intellectual property rights involving drug patents and entertainment copyright law was crucial to strengthening commercial ties.

US-based pharmaceutical companies often complain about India's tough patent laws that do not allow tweaking of inventions to win new patent protection and instead demand "genuine innovation".

Last month, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres accused the US of ratcheting up pressure on India to relax patent conditions that have made the country the "world's pharmacy" with its lifesaving generic drugs.

But Siddharth Birla, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI), indicated India was not about to relax its patent laws.

He told the audience the patent protection reflected India's "development priorities" aimed at "providing accessibility and affordability of medicines".

AFP