Tuesday, 25 November 2014

India, US may signal progress on visa, agriculture

India and the US are expected to signal a restart the troubled trade dialogue on Tuesday but will fall short of spelling out specifics, which may undermine the diplomatic play that the Narendra Modi government is seeking with Washington.

While commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman is due to meet US Trade Representative Michael Froman on Tuesday, there were indications from the official level talks on Monday that the government's repeated concerns on the American visa regime are likely to find a mention in the joint statement. But India's attempts to get the US to indicate a regime favourable to software professionals have not found favour.

Similarly, on agriculture, both countries are likely to offer access to farm products — such as Indian mangoes, pomegranate and Californian almonds — but will list out international norms, around which discussions will take place. Similarly, there will be a statement of intent on safety norms, an issue that has worried overseas exporters after Food Safety and Standards Authority of India enforced the labeling requirements for chocolates, wine and scotch.
"There are a lot of areas, where the official level talks have shown that there is a need to start technical work. These issues can't be resolved over a two-day period. In any case, both countries have well entrenched position on all the issues, which are tough to change," said a source.

With US president Barack Obama slated to be in the country for the Republic Day function, the thorny issues such as the US visa rules, India's intellectual property rights regime, signing the Totalization Agreement to get IT professionals, are not on the fast track. "What we are setting out is a work programme for 2015. There is a growing realization in the fact that it is better to speak on the sticky issues bilaterally," said another official.

While there will be discussion around the patent regime, especially for medicines, at the ministerial meeting, Sitharaman is also expected to flag the government's concerns over high licence fee when Indian companies file applications for drugs going off patents. During Monday's discussions, Indian officials suggested that American companies should invest in R&D in India, while acknowledging the recent flip-flop on tax policy.

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