India cannot sacrifice economic strength to comply with U.S. sanctions - Finance Minister

NEW YORK (Reuters) - India wants to comply with global sanctions, including U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Russia, but also needs to maintain its own strength and strategic interests, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in an interview on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das arrive to attend the RBI's central board meeting in New Delhi, India July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo

The United States in January imposed the toughest sanctions yet on Venezuela's oil industry. The move has scared away some global customers, but with few alternative suppliers of heavy oil, Indian refiner Reliance Industries Ltd RELI.NS has been buying Venezuelan crude from Russian major Rosneft ROSN.MM. The company is set to resume direct oil loadings in the South American nation after a four-month pause.

Sitharaman said the Indian government has expressed its view to the United States.

“In specific issues which are critical for India’s strategic interests, we have explained to the United States that India is a strategic partner for the United States of America and you want a strategic partner to be strong and not weakened,” she said.

“We value the strong partnership with the USA, but we should equally be allowed to be a strong economy.”

The International Monetary Fund earlier on Tuesday lowered its outlook for Indian growth in 2019, citing weaker-than-expected domestic demand. The U.S.-China trade war will cut 2019 global growth to its slowest pace since the 2008/09 financial crisis, the IMF said.

India’s gross domestic product grew at its weakest pace since 2013 between April and June, stoking expectations of further stimulus.

“Global headwinds ... are getting stronger by the day,” Sitharaman said. Asked about further fiscal stimulus, she said: “I have not closed the door” on that.

New Delhi has been trying to boost domestic growth through an infrastructure package and a new loan programme organised with the banking sector that has doled out loans worth over 80,000 crore (8.7 billion pounds), she said.

The finance minister defended the government’s controversial actions in Jammu and Kashmir in August. India stripped the Muslim-majority portion of the state, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, of autonomy on Aug. 5. Since then the government has shut off phone networks, imposed curfew-like restrictions in some areas, and arrested thousands, including hundreds of local politicians.

The removal of the constitutional article that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir will boost the region and the country’s economic potential, she said.

Human rights groups say the crackdown is spreading fear among the local population. For decades before India’s recent actions, women, scheduled castes, and nomadic tribes were denied human rights in Kashmir, Sitharaman said. “Where was the global community’s human rights concern at that time?”

Reporting by Chris Prentice and Rodrigo Campos in New York; additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; editing by Richard Pullin