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Top Indian-American US trade official resigns

August 28, 2007 22:20 IST

The senior-most Indian-American in the Bush Administration, deputy US Trade Representative Karan Bhatia, has resigned effective October to return to the private sector.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab in making the announcement about Bhatia's intention to depart the USTR after six years of service in the Bush's Administration, including two as deputy USTR, said, "Karan Bhatia has been a great contributor to the president's international trade agenda during his tenure as deputy US trade representative, as well as in his previous positions at the department of transportation and department of commerce."

She said, "While I am sorry to see him go, he leaves behind a legacy of important contributions, including negotiating the landmark US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, overseeing Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organisation, and launching the US-India Trade Policy Forum."

During his tenure at USTR, Bhatia was a senior member of Schwab's management team, with day-to-day responsibility to oversee the US trade relations with Asia and Africa.

Prior to serving at USTR, he had served as assistant secretary of transportation for aviation and international affairs and deputy under secretary of commerce for industry and security.

Before joining the Bush Administration, Bhatia, an attorney by training, was a partner at a major Washington,DC law firm.

Bhatia could not be reached as he was travelling overseas. 

But in an exclusive and wide-ranging interview in June with India Abroad, the weekly newspaper published in the US, which is owned by rediff.com, Bhatia said while US-India trade was steady, he was impatient for big accomplishments, and wanted it to be the anchor of the envisaged strategic partnership between the two countries.

"I want to see us taking big steps," he said, and ultimately a free-trade agreement between Washington and New Delhi.

Bhatia had been involved in all negotiations that led to major agreements between the US and India from the time he joined the administration in 2001.

During his stint in the commerce department as deputy under secretary and chief counsel for the bureau of industry and security, it was he who planted the seeds for the transfer of high technology, including nuclear technology, fuel and civilian nuclear reactors to India that ultimately resulted in the US-India civilian nuclear agreement. It happened when the then deputy chief of mission in the Indian Embassy Alok Prasad--now High Commissioner in Sri Lanka--suggested that if such a relationship between both countries could be set in motion, then it would be unprecedented.

While at the transportation department, Bhatia, supervised, among other things, the negotiation of the Open Skies Agreement, an international air services agreement with India, and in his current avatar, he was in the thick of negotiations that led to Indian mangoes being allowed into the United States after almost two decades.

During the last few months, he was involved in his pet project, involving the free exchange of satellite communications between the US and India, in which the US would be able to sell to Indian companies capacity on American satellites, and India would be able to sell to the US capacity on its own.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC