: India has submitted all relevant data on its social security schemes sought by the US to start negotiations on a bilateral totalisation agreement that would exempt short-term visa holders from contributing to social security and will push for it at the India-US Trade Policy Forum (TPF) meeting on Friday, an official has said.

“The US wanted full data on social security schemes in India as a condition for starting negotiations on the totalisation or social security agreement. With the help of the Ministry of Labour, India has submitted full data on schemes such as Employees’ Provident Fund, National Pension System and ESIC. At the India-US TPF, India will make a case for start of the negotiations,” the official said.

Other issues that India may pursue at the TPF, which will be co-chaired by Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, include delays in the issuance of business visas, non-tariff barriers for items such as table grapes, mangoes, marine products and pharmaceuticals, restoration of benefits for exporters under the Generalised System of Preferences scheme and imposition of anti-subsidy duties on some Indian exports.

“A totalisation agreement is important as we want that short-term workers from India in the US and vice versa should not be made to contribute double for social security and therefore be exempted from contributing in each others’ countries,” the official said, adding that whether a total exemption is to be given or the contributions are to be refunded could be part of the negotiations.

A social security pact may help Indian companies in the US, especially in the ICT sector, save up to $4 billion every year, per industry estimates.

Pharma and marine exports

India also wants speeding up of the approval and inspection process of Indian pharmaceutical companies by the American health regulator, the US Food and Drug Administration’s (USFDA), which is mandatory for them to sell medicines to the the US, the official said. 

New Delhi will also ask Washington to expedite the process of inspection of special nets that the US asked India’s marine exporters to use for catching shrimps so that turtles are not hurt. “Indian fishers have started using the fine quality nets that do not harm turtles but the US has not yet sent inspectors to examine it. India will ask the US to send inspectors as early as possible so that shrimp exports to the country could resume,” the official said.

The US was India’s biggest trading partner in 2022-23, with bilateral trade rising 7.65 per cent to $ 128.55 billion from $ 119.5 billion in 2021-22.