The Hill: Frustrated business groups push Obama to get tough with India

The Hill: Frustrated business groups push Obama to get tough with India
September 23, 2013
By: Vicki Needham

Business groups are urging President Obama to address widespread patent and intellectual property theft and unfair business practices in India when he meets this week in Washington with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Frustration among the groups has been mounting for months with what they say is India’s deteriorating behavior, which they argue is choking off international investment to the country.

India’s political leaders have been dealing with a falling currency and lower growth in the country’s economy. They have responded with policies requiring private companies to purchase only domestically produced goods, U.S. business leaders complain.

They say the policies are damaging an economic relationship worth $60 billion, and one that should be growing.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are among the groups pressing Obama to tell Singh the policies are counterproductive to India.

“They are leaving us scratching our heads because we don’t know what is driving these new policies and to what end they’re pursuing them,” said Mark Elliot, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC), who is a co-chairman of the Alliance for Fair Trade with India.

“This is a very big change in economic course,” Elliot said.

“Not so long ago we were looking at the significant potential of the nation,” he added. “Not anymore.”

The Obama administration has made the U.S. relationship with India a significant priority. Singh and India were honored in 2009 at the first state dinner hosted by Obama.

Obama toasted Singh at the dinner, stating “let our two great nations realize all the triumphs and achievements that await us.”

Agitation about India’s changing policies have been growing over the past 12 to 18 months, however, and wasn’t relieved by recent talks between the Indian government and Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Biden.

U.S. business groups argue some of India’s policies violate World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, and that U.S. business has lost confidence in investing in India.

“This is a critical problem for business,” said Linda Dempsey, NAM’s vice president of international economic affairs and the co-chairwoman of the fair trade alliance.

She said India is sending the signal that the nation of more than 1.2 billion people isn’t open for business.

A top Indian official recently defended her country’s policies last month in an editorial in The Hill.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship have been fostered by vigorous enforcement of trade agreements and patent laws,” wrote Nirupama Rao, India’s ambassador to the United States.

She said her nation’s protection of patents “is considered a model in the developing world. Critics who say otherwise are simply wrong.”

India makes a priority of complying with international treaties such as the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement of the WTO, she wrote.

But she said that agreement allows developing countries to issue generic version of drugs to deal with health crises.

“International treaties permit countries to make affordable, life-saving drugs available to people most in need at affordable prices,” she wrote. “India has done so in a way that is both legal and sensitive to the principle of patent protection.”

In response, Elliot wrote in a letter arguing that between July 2012 and July 2013, India denied or revoked patents for nearly a dozen lifesaving medications.

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