India hopes to initiate talks on H-1B as part of proposed comprehensive review of trade

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 12, 2018

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trumpat the White House, Washington DC PTI   -  PTI

US may push for higher market access for goods

India is hopeful of initiating a dialogue on reversal of the fresh H-1B visa curbs initiated by the US as part of the “comprehensive review’’ of bilateral trade relations that US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have resolved to undertake.

While the joint statement issued by Modi and Trump following their bilateral meeting in Washington DC did not reflect India’s concerns on work visa rules, the government is positive that it would be an important part of the trade review process mentioned in the text, a Commerce Ministry official told BusinessLine.

The going, however, may not be very smooth for India as the US may demand its pound of flesh in terms of more market access for its agricultural and manufactured goods.

“The joint statement talks about working towards increasing market access in IT, which is a positive. But as it is mentioned together with the need for increased market access for agriculture, manufactured goods and services, it indicates that there could be a quid pro quo involved,” the official said.

Reversing some provisions of the draft executive order on more stringent H-1B visa norms was on top of the Indian Prime Minister’s list of issues for discussion with Trump. New US guidelines specifying that work visas will be given only to highly-qualified professionals and selection would be made on the basis of salary paid instead of the lottery system could lead to disruption for many Indian IT companies. Indian firms, which have been receiving a large share of the 85,000 work visas given out by the US every year, are apprehensive that they may have to send back workers if the minimum threshold for salary is increased from $65,000 to the proposed $130,000.

“The US will possibly not directly link visa issues with market access for goods but there is an indirect pressure that is already building up on India to open up markets further in both agricultural and industrial goods,” the official said.

IP laws

Washington has started a unilateral review of trade with a number of countries including India with which it has a trade deficit. The objective is to find out areas where it could nudge partner countries to give more market access. The US also wants India to tighten its intellectual property laws to give higher protection to pharmaceutical companies.

“What the US needs to understand is that we do not have specific barriers for American countries. Our import duties on items such as cars and motorcycles and apples are the same for all countries and important for protecting our industry. It is good that a bilateral review has been mentioned in the joint statement as we could explain our position,” the official said.

The US is India’s largest export market accounting for $42.33 billion of exports in 2016-17. The country imported goods worth $22.17 billion from the US in the same period.

Published on June 27, 2017

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