New US trade chief focused on India

New US Trade Representative Michael Froman on Friday said he expected growing trade problems with India to be a major early focus of his tenure, but stopped short of saying the United States should cut off benefits for that country.

"We have a number of concerns about the investment and innovation environment in India," Froman said in a wide-ranging interview shortly after being sworn into office. "It's something that we're very focused on."

Other top priorities are completing trade deals with 11 countries in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region and with the European Union, and ensuring that countries live up to their existing trade obligations, he said.

Froman, who won Senate approval on Wednesday by a vote of 93-4, said he agreed with Senator Elizabeth Warren that the public should have a better understanding of the issues that countries negotiate in trade agreements.

"We'll take a look at a number of ideas and proposals that people have about how to improve transparency. But we also want to make sure that we can negotiate a deal that is in the best interests of American workers, farmers and ranchers," he said.

Warren's concern that trade talks are overly secretive prompted the Massachusetts Democrat to vote against Froman, even though she is an ally of President Barack Obama on many other issues.

Angst over India

Members of Congress and business groups have urged the Obama administration to take a tougher line on India's trade policies, including its use of compulsory licenses to suspend patents on US drugs, barriers to US agricultural exports, restrictions on foreign investment and local content policies that discriminate against foreign goods.

Froman, who until recently was Obama's chief international economic affairs adviser, said he expected to raise the issues next month in Washington at a US-India CEO Summit, and potentially in a future meeting of the US-India Trade Policy Forum, which has not met since 2010.

Some lawmakers have suggested removing India from Washington's Generalized System of Preferences program, which helps developing countries export goods to the United States.

Froman treaded carefully on that question, noting that many US companies also benefited from the program, since it lowered their production costs by waiving duties on imports.

"We need to take a careful look at that ... This is something we want to work with Congress on," he said.

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