Programs and Opportunities
U.S.-India Agricultural Cooperation: A New Beginning
By Julia Debes
Christopher Columbus sought a new route with better
access to the Indian market, but instead, he discovered
America. Today, the United States has a similar goal to
that of Columbus, increased market access to India.
India currently has nearly a five-to-one positive
agricultural trade balance with the United States. In
calendar year 2005, the United States exported $294.43
million in agricultural products to India and imported
$922.87 million in agricultural products from India, the
highest level since 1970.
In his remarks to the third board meeting of the AKI
(Agricultural Knowledge Initiative) on May 30, 2006,
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said, “The United
States views India as a rising global power and partner,
one whose interests converge in important respects with
those of the United States.”
The agricultural industry plays an important role in
increasing market access for both India and the U.S.,
particularly through two initiatives – the FGA (Focus
Group on Agriculture) of the TPF (Trade Policy Forum)
and the AKI.
The Trade Policy Forum
Created in July 2005, the U.S.-India TPF has the primary
goal of doubling bilateral trade in three years.
The committee is chaired by India’s Minister of Commerce
and Industry and the U.S. Trade Representative. It has
five subgroups: tariffs and nontariff barriers,
services, investment, innovation and creativity, and
As India plays an increasingly important
leadership role in Asia in the 21st century, the
partnership will benefit the strategic and
agricultural interests of both countries.
The group has made progress on trade in U.S. almonds,
U.S. pulses, Indian mangoes, and Indian organic
products. It has also developed a health protocol for
U.S. bovine semen and a USDA certification process for
organic foods from Indian facilities.
For example, the United States and India have made
progress on India mangoes, as experts from the two
countries have had discussions that led to technical
milestones, and a team of U.S. experts has traveled to
India to visit two weevil-free mango-producing states.
As a result, USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative
announced in March 2006 that Indian mangoes would be
permitted to be sold in U.S. markets within 18 months.
The Agricultural Knowledge Initiative
In addition to the FGA, the United States and India also
actively participate in the AKI. The United States has
pledged $24 million to the initiative over the next
“The AKI is part of the U.S. comprehensive strategy on
revitalizing the bilateral relationship in agriculture
with India,” said Susan Owens, director of the FAS
Research and Scientific Exchanges Division. “The AKI
aims to promote science and technology to create a sound
regulatory environment that promotes investment and
A board consisting of U.S. and Indian members from
government, universities, and the private sector
provides recommendations to the respective governments.
The U.S. private-sector members are Monsanto, Wal-Mart,
and Archer Daniels Midland Company. Additionally, Nobel
laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug and Dr. M.S. Swaminathan are
honorary advisors for the AKI.
USDA, the U.S. Trade Development Agency, the U.S. Agency
for International Development, and the U.S. Department
of State represent the U.S. government in India and work
within the AKI to conduct activities in four focus
areas: university capacity building, food processing and
marketing, biotechnology, and water resource management.
All of these areas have projects that are jointly
conducted by both countries.
“The United States and India are working together
closely on AKI projects,” Owens said. “At every stage of
implementation, there is an effort to be as transparent
AKI also has a goal of improving the market-research
linkage. “We want to broaden the scope of the AKI beyond
just research,” Owens said. “We want to use the AKI to
increase agricultural production in India and improve
the links between research centers and farmers to
benefit India’s rural poor.”
One of the major projects in the coming year is a
competitive grants program with the National Association
of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, which
will support agricultural research and training.
Additionally, in September 2006, the AKI facilitated two
workshops in biotechnology and water management.
Seventeen fellows in the Norman Borlaug Fellows Program
for India will also arrive in the United States later in
2006 for short-term scientific training and research,
studying subjects from plant science to biofuels.
The Challenges and the Potential
Despite progress, however, both the FGA and AKI face
Although all trade issues are equally important, the FGA
is addressing two areas of U.S. concern – India’s
specifications on wheat imports and India’s new
USDA forecasts that India would import a total of 4.0
million metric tons of wheat in July 2006-June 2007.
However, new Indian specifications for wheat imports
have prevented the U.S. from exporting wheat into the
country. To ensure compliance with India’s zero
tolerance policy for exotic weed seeds in all wheat,
potentially thousands of samples would have to be
analyzed by experts at the port of exit. Normally, a
25,000 ton shipload of wheat takes about one day to
grade, without looking for weed seeds; if U.S.
inspectors followed Indian specifications, it would take
many weeks just to inspect one shipment.
Additionally, the government of India has announced two
new regulations on agricultural biotechnology products –
mandatory labeling for biotechnology food products, and
documentation requirements for foods produced through
biotechnology or foods that contain ingredients or
additives from such foods. The United States considers
these regulations as inconsistent with India’s actions
to further develop utilization of this technology to
improve its agricultural productivity and has asked
India to notify the WTO (World Trade Organization)
sanitary and phytosanitary measures committee of the new
regulations in accordance with WTO policy.
Neither the products covered nor the import requirements
necessary to implement these regulations are clear. The
new regulations could affect imports of all commodities
-- bulk, intermediate, and consumer-oriented -- but
there have been no reports of stopped imports.
The United States and India have made progress improving
market access. India has expressed interest in opening
new markets in the United States for its grapes,
pomegranates, and custard apples.
When Columbus landed in the Western Hemisphere, he
realized sailing across the ocean was only the first leg
of a long journey. The United States and India also have
a long road ahead, but, just like Columbus, at least the
ship of cooperation has reached its initial destination.
At the third AKI board meeting in May, Agriculture
Secretary Mike Johanns said, “As India plays an
increasingly important leadership role in Asia in the
21st century, our partnership will benefit the strategic
and agricultural interests of both our countries.”
Julia Debes, an intern who served with the FAS Public
Affairs Division, attends Kansas State University and is
working on a degree in agricultural communications and