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US' Kerry challenges India's Modi over stance on WTO trade accord

NEW DELHI--U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Narendra Modi that India's stance on a key World Trade Organization (WTO) trade deal sent the wrong message, as he met the country's new prime minister for the first time on Friday.

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

But a raft of disputes has cast a shadow over hopes for a warmer relationship, with India on Thursday blocking a major WTO 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,” a U.S. official quoted Kerry as saying.

“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.”

Kerry urged India to work with the United States to move the WTO process forward, the official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official also said 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.”

Earlier, Kerry said the United States wanted “try to really take the relationship to a new place,” following a series of diplomatic spats with India.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, Friday, Aug. 1.

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