June 21, 2018 / 6:29 AM / 4 months ago

India, top buyer of U.S. almonds, hits back with higher duties

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India, the world’s biggest buyer of U.S. almonds, raised import duties on the commodity by 20 percent, a government order said, joining the European Union and China in retaliating against President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes on steel and aluminum.

FILE PHOTO: Cargo containers are seen stacked outside the container terminal of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) in Mumbai, India, July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo

New Delhi, incensed by Washington’s refusal to exempt it from the new tariffs, also imposed a 120 percent duty on the import of walnuts in the strongest action yet against the United States.

The move to increase tariffs from Aug. 4 will also cover a slew of other farm, steel and iron products.

It came a day after the European Union said it would begin charging 25 percent import duties on a range of U.S. products on Friday, in response to the new U.S. tariffs.

India is by far the largest buyer of U.S. almonds, purchasing over half of all U.S. almond shipments in 2017. A kilogram of shelled almonds will attract duty of as much as 120 rupees ($1.76) instead of the current 100 rupees, the Commerce Ministry said.

Last month, New Delhi sought an exemption from the new U.S. tariffs, saying its steel and aluminum exports were small in relation to other suppliers. But its request was ignored, prompting India to launch a complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization.

FILE PHOTO: A labourer stands in front of a steel pipe storage rack at an industrial area in Mumbai, India, January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File photo

“India’s tariff retaliation is within the discipline of trade tariffs of the World Trade Organization,” said steel secretary Aruna Sharma.

Trade differences between India and the United States have been rising since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. Bilateral trade rose to $115 billion in 2016, but the Trump administration wants to reduce its $31 billion deficit with India, and is pressing New Delhi to ease trade barriers.

Earlier this year, Trump called out India for its duties on Harley-Davidson motorbikes, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to cut the import duty to 50 percent from 75 percent for the high-end bikes.

But that has not satisfied Trump, who pointed to zero duties for Indian bikes sold in the United States and said he would push for a “reciprocal tax” against countries, including U.S. allies, that levy tariffs on American products.

In the tariff rates issued late on Wednesday, the commerce ministry named some varieties of almonds, apples, chickpeas, lentils, walnuts and artemia that would carry higher import taxes. Most of these are purchased from the United States.

Walnuts have gone from 100 percent duty to 120 percent, the government note said.

For graphic on U.S. almond exports by destination click reut.rs/2MJ0A2N

A worker cuts iron rods outside a workshop at an iron and steel market in an industrial area in New Delhi, December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

India also raised duties on some grades of iron and steel products. In May it had given a list of products to the WTO that it said could incur higher tariffs.

An official from the steel ministry said at the time that the new tariffs were intended to show displeasure at the U.S. action.

“It is an appropriate signal. I am hopeful that all of this (trade war) will die down. In my view this is not in the interest of the global economy,” said Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of the Indian government’s policy thinktank Niti Aayog.

Rising trade tensions between the United States and some major economies have threatened to derail global growth.

Officials from India and the United States are expected to hold talks on June 26-27 to discuss trade issues, local daily Times of India reported on Thursday citing Press Trust of India.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday announced a preliminary finding that imports of large-diameter welded pipe from China, India, South Korea and Turkey were subsidized by those countries, and said it was imposing preliminary duties that could top 500 percent.

In a separate trade dispute, Trump threatened on Monday to hit $200 billion of Chinese imports with 10 percent tariffs if Beijing retaliates against his previous announcement to target $50 billion in imports. The United States has accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property, a charge Beijing denies.

Reporting by Neha Dasgupta and Nidhi Verma; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Richard Pullin and Adrian Croft

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