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Indian tariffs on ICT prove sticking point

For keepsakes: PM Modi presents a photograph from the ‘Howdy Modi!’ event to President Trump in New York. PTIPTI

Despite Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal’s presence in New York to conclude a trade package with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the two sides failed to bridge the gap in their positions.

The announcement of an agreement was expected to coincide with Tuesday’s bilateral between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump. “We will have a trade deal soon. We will have a bigger trade deal down the road,” Mr. Trump said before the talks held on the sidelines of the UN General Asssembly meeting.

While Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale did not share details on why a trade package could not be concluded, three sources familiar with the negotiations told The Hindu that the prospects of an agreement unravelled due to the failure to reach an agreement on Information and communications technology (ICT) products.

The U.S. wants India to eliminate tariffs (20%) on ICT products, but New Delhi is concerned that this could open up the market to flooding by Chinese technology.

The U.S. wanted greater access to Indian markets for medical devices, such as stents and knee implants, ICT and dairy products and sought the removal of price caps.

The US had sought the removal of price caps (“Trade Margin Rationalization” or TMR) on medical devices and greater access for dairy products and some other categories of agricultural goods.

Preferential access

On its part, India wanted the reinstatement of preferential market access to U.S. markets under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, which was revoked in early June. It had also wanted facilitation of processes in agricultural product markets where it already had access (such as easier certification of food product irradiation facilities) and greater access in some agricultural markets (table grapes and pomegranates, for instance), sources told The Hindu.

Although a limited trade package could not be finalised, Mr. Gokhale said the two sides had “narrowed their areas of difference”, and made “significant progress”.

“The two leaders, therefore, felt that they were optimistic in terms of reaching some kind of a trade agreement in the near future. And discussions will continue in this regard,” he said. However, he did not provide a time frame for the conclusion of agreement.

“It appears there was no trade deal and that’s disappointing. Hopefully the two sides will keep engaging and not let momentum dissipate,” Mark Linscott, former senior USTR negotiator and now senior fellow at the Atlantic Council told The Hindu. “Frankly it’s not a good sign that a modest deal could not get done because there are bigger issues down the road. If India and the U.S. are going to realize the full potential of the trade relationship, they need to start putting points on the board,” Mr Linscott said.

U.K. top court’s verdict plunges Brexit further into turmoil

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down Parliament for five weeks in the run-up to Brexit was unlawful, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a humiliating rebuke to him.

The unanimous decision by the 11 presiding judges thrusts Britain’s exit from the European Union further into turmoil as it undermines Mr. Johnson and gives legislators more scope to oppose his Brexit plans.

“The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification,” Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said, reading out the decision. “Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 Justices,” she added. “It is for Parliament, and in particular, the Speaker and the [House of] Lords, to decide what to do next.”

The Speaker of the House of Commons, where Mr. Johnson has lost his majority and most lawmakers oppose his promise to leave the EU with or without a deal by October 31, said the chamber must convene without delay.

“I welcome the judgment that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful,” said the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. “As the embodiment of our Parliamentary democracy, the House of Commons must convene without delay. To this end, I will now consult the party leaders as a matter of urgency.”

The pound sterling initially rallied by a third of a cent against the U.S. dollar after the news, before paring gains slightly, and, at 1005 GMT, stood 0.25% up on the day at $1.2460.

Parliament was suspended from September 10 to October 14. The prorogation was approved by Queen Elizabeth on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Some lawmakers, including those thrown out of Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party for rebelling against his Brexit plans, said he should resign if he was found to have misled the Queen.

Temblor of 5.8 intensity strikes at a depth of 10 km; tremors felt in India

A road in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that was damaged in the earthquake. PTIPTI

A powerful 5.8-magnitude earthquake jolted Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and several cities in the northeastern parts of the country on Tuesday afternoon, killing at least 26 people and wounding over 300 others.

Pakistan Meteorological Department’s Chief Meteorologist Muhammad Riaz, told The Hindu that the worst-hit area was Mirpur, where houses had collapsed and roads were ripped apart.

Tremors were felt across several north Indian States, including Jammu & Kashmir, the Delhi-National Capital Region, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, the National Centre for Seismology (NCS) said.

Some houses and parts of a mosque collapsed in Mirpur following the earthquake, Deputy Commissioner Raja Qaiser said.

Emergency has been declared in hospitals across PoK. TV channels showed the footage of heavily damaged roads in Mirpur, with many vehicles overturned. Several cars fell into the deep cracks on the roads. The building of the state-run Broadcasting House in Mirpur was badly damaged.

The tremors were felt in several cities across Pakistan including Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Multan.

Director Operations State Disaster Management Authority in PoK Saeed-Ur-Rehman Qureshi said the authorities were waiting for confirmation on death toll.

Tough terrain: The Army is looking to make Siachen garbage-free in 12-15 years. Indian Army

Since January 2018, nearly 130 tonnes of waste has been brought down from the Siachen Glacier and disposed of, Army sources said on Tuesday.

Based on a 2018 concept note on waste management on the glacier, the Army has made bringing down waste a part of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for troops.

“On an average, 236 tonnes of waste is generated every year on Siachen glacier. There is now a SOP, for every link patrol or administrative column to bring the waste down. The capacity of each person to carry is 10-15 kg due to the extreme weather,” an Army source said. Efforts are on to increase the disposal rate to 100 tonnes a year.

In the past, waste disposal work was fragmented and intermittent, but the Army is looking to cut waste in the rations and utilities delivered on the glacier, and make Siachen garbage-free in 12-15 years.

India has held the glacier’s dominating heights since it occupied them in 1984 under ‘Operation Meghdoot’. The 130 tonnes disposed of include 48.4 tonnes of biodegradable garbage, 40.32 tonnes of non-biodegradable, non-metallic waste and 42.45 tonnes of metallic scrap. The biggest challenge was the high altitude as most posts were located between 18,000 and 21,000 feet. Nothing degrades at sub-zero temperatures, so everything had to be brought down.

The three types of wastes are disposed of differently. Biodegradable waste consists of cartons and packets rolled using baling machines. For the non-biodegradable, non-metallic waste, three incinerators have been set up at Siachen base camp, Partapur, and near Bukdang village, at 10,000 feet.

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