Economy

US offers to host trade policy forum with India next month

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 22, 2017

The forum, in Washington on October 26, will be co-chaired by Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (file photos)   -  Ramesh Sharma/Reuters

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer   -  REUTERS

Prabhu, USTR Lighthizer to thrash out issues related to work visa fees, multi-brand retail, pharma

The US has made a formal offer to host the trade policy forum with India on October 26 in Washington, where both sides hope to thrash out complex issues, including work visa restrictions, liberalisation of multi-brand retail and legal services in India and market access for pharmaceuticals and farm products.

“Assistant US Trade Representative Mark Linscott, who met senior officials from the Commerce & Industry Ministry in New Delhi this week, proposed the possible dates and October 26 was acceptable to both sides. It will be an important meeting as it will be the first under the Trump administration, at a time when top administrative posts have finally been filled,” a government official told BusinessLine.

The forum will be co-chaired by Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu and US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer.

The meeting with Linscott’s team this week took stock of trade relations so far and shortlisted issues for discussion at the October 26 forum. It was attended by senior officials from various ministries and departments, including legal services, higher education, consumer affairs and financial services.

“The US officials stressed on the need to open up the services sector including legal services, multi-brand retail trade and education. They have been pushing India to allow foreign universities to set up campuses on their own without tying up with Indian partners,” the official said.

Visa woes

India, on its part, emphasised that its IT services sector has been hit by the tightening of work visa norms in the US and imposition of higher visa fee on companies that employ more non-American workers. It also pointed out that the US needs to listen to India’s repeated request for a totalisation agreement that would save the domestic industry an estimated $3-4 billion in social security payments in the US.

In the area of non-agricultural market access, New Delhi has asked Washington to lower the barriers for generic exporters — they have been facing high inspection fees and strict inspection norms. The US team sought wider market access for medical equipment manufactured by American companies.

“In agriculture, both sides complained of non-tariff restrictions and agreed that such barriers need to be lowered through regular discussions,” the official said.

Patent laws

The US is also keen to discuss IPR issues and nudge India to make its patent laws more favourable for patent holders by going beyond its commitment made in the global TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement.

“It will now be up to the USTR and the Indian Minister to decide how to go about sorting out the problem areas, many of them long-held,” the official added.

The US is one of the largest trade partners of India with bilateral trade of around $65 billion. However, the fact that India enjoys a trade surplus of an annual $22 billion with the US has not gone down well with the Trump administration, which is working to zero in on the reasons.

“The reason for the deficit is simple. The US buys labour-intensive items from India as it has slowly moved away from manufacturing to specialised services. It is all fair trade and no action is warranted,” the official said.

Published on September 22, 2017

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