India and the U.S. pressed one another to watch out for poor countries' interests in global trade talks, but struck a conciliatory note less than a week after acrimony erupted in the WTO's Doha round.
"There has to be a convergence of respecting each other's sensitivities," Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said in a speech to the U.S.-India Business Council. "And I want to assure you from here, that Susan and I will find that convergence," Nath said, referring to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, who was with him on the panel.
It was the first meeting for the two officials since trade talks broke down last week among Indian, U.S., European Union and Brazilian officials in Potsdam, Germany.
The discord at Potsdam disappointed those who hoped the four major trading powers could push the round, which has been moving in fits and starts since its 2001 launch, closer to a deal by the end of the year.
Schwab, who met with Nath privately earlier in the day, said India had a special role as a Doha round leader for developing countries to act on behalf of poor countries, not just in its own interest.
But the tone of the public discussion in Washington was a far cry from the angry reaction after the meltdown in Potsdam, when Schwab and other U.S. officials pointed the finger at India and Brazil for what they saw as impossible requests for reductions of U.S. farm subsidies while failing to provide substantial lowering of industrial tariffs.
India, meanwhile, said the United States was not prepared to deliver real cuts to generous farm subsidies.
Both Nath and Schwab highlighted the two countries' bilateral commerce, although Nath warned that the European Union and China were approaching the United States' position as India's largest trading partner.