Visa fee hike, social security pact to top agenda at India-US trade policy forum

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on October 18, 2016

US Trade Representative Michael Froman with Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

A series of meetings planned over the next two-days in New Delhi

An India-US totalisation agreement exempting short-term work-visa holders from contributing to social security and lowering of visa fees for IT professionals will continue to dominate India’s agenda at the bilateral trade policy forum (TPF) meeting beginning on Wednesday.

New Delhi will also make a case for greater market access for basmati, grapes and mangoes at the series of meetings between officials which includes Ministerial-level talks between USTR Michael Froman and Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

“The US has said that its legal system does not allow a totalisation agreement with India, but we are not ready to accept such an argument. It is unfair to force Indian workers to pay social security when their visa tenure is shorter than the minimum working years required to benefit from social security,” a government official told BusinessLine.

Since the TPF is a forum for both countries to air their grievances, New Delhi hopes to change Washington’s outlook towards a social security agreement, which could save India an estimated $4 billion annually, through constant discussion at the forum.

Under the TPF, there would be technical level discussions on October 19 on the four working group issues — agriculture, trade in services and goods, promotion of investment in manufacturing and intellectual property. Technical discussions would be followed by Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia and the Deputy USTR the next day.

Export partner

The US is India’s largest export partner accounting for more than $40 billion of exports in 2015-16. The hefty additional fees imposed on temporary work visas by the US last year, which has hit mostly Indian IT professionals working for companies such as Infosys and Wipro, will be another area of prominence for India. Although India has dragged the US to the WTO on the matter, it is finding it difficult to build a sound case due to difficulty in accessing relevant data on visas issued by the US government.

Problems faced by Indian exporters of mangoes, basmati rice and grapes due to various unwarranted requirements and restrictions imposed by the US will also be raised by Indian officials. “Although the US allows exports of mangoes and basmati rice, there are many issues related to sanitary & phytosanitary norms that act as irritants. These have to be removed,” the official said.

The US, on its part, would push India to tighten its IPR norms and move beyond the commitments made in the multilateral TRIPS agreement entered into by all World Trade Organisation (WTO) members. New Delhi has been maintaining that while it would work towards have an easier and friendlier IPR regime for innovators, it was not ready to take on additional commitments as it would harm the interest of poor patients in the country.

New issues

Washington would also try to convince India to agree to discuss new issues at the WTO such as e-commerce, investments and environment, which the country has been resisting so far.

As part of the annual work plan jointly agreed between India and US, the four working groups have been meeting with an intention of understanding the best practices, facilitating investment and raising concerns relating to the trade.

Published on October 18, 2016
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