U.S. eases export controls for high-tech sales to India: Ross

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has eased export controls for high technology product sales to India, granting it the same access as NATO allies, Australia, Japan and South Korea, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Monday.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross attends a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Ross, speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, said the move to grant Strategic Trade Authorization status STA1 to India reflects its efforts to improve its own export-control regime, its adherence to multilateral export rules and its growing status as a U.S. defense partner.

“STA1 provides India greater supply chain efficiency, both for defense, and for other high-tech products,” Ross said, adding that the elevated status would have affected about $9.7 billion worth of Indian goods purchases over the past seven years.

India’s ambassador to the United States, Navtej Sarna, told the same forum the U.S. move was a logical step after the United States designated India a major defense partner in 2016.

“It is a sign of trust, not only in the relationship, but also (in) Indian’s capabilities as an economy and as a security partner, because it also presupposes that India has the multilateral export control regime in place which would allow the transfer of more sensitive defense technologies,” he said.

“It also testifies to the excellent record we have had in maintaining non-proliferation of these technologies,” he said. “I certainly think it fleshes out our defense partnership in a big way.”

Political and military ties between the countries have expanded significantly in recent years although trade differences have arisen since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

Ross’s announcement comes ahead of high-level talks between the United States and India in September that will be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The Sept. 6 talks have been twice postponed this year.

India and the United States share an interest in countering China’s expanding economic and military weight and the United States has emerged as a top arms supplier to India, selling more than $15 billion of weapons over the past decade as New Delhi modernizes its Soviet-era military.

Washington has offered India the armed version of drones that were originally authorized for sale as unarmed and for surveillance purposes. If the deal comes to fruition, it would be the first time the United States has sold a large armed drone to a country outside the NATO alliance.

Reporting by David Lawder and David Brunnstrom; Editing by David Gregorio and Susan Thomas