The Hindu Business Line: Sharma to discuss concerns of IT, exporters with US official

The Hindu Business Line: Sharma to discuss concerns of IT, exporters with US official
August 18, 2013
By Amiti Sen

Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma will meet US Trade Representative Michael Froman this week to discuss India’s concerns related to additional visa restrictions on IT professionals, increased cases of visa rejections and expiry of duty-free benefit scheme for its exporters.

While the US is likely to raise concerns over ‘lax’ implementation of India’s intellectual property laws, Sharma will be on a stronger wicket this time as the Obama administration is itself facing questions for overturning telecom giant Samsung’s patent rights recently.

Sharma and Froman are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the ASEAN Economic Community Council Meeting in Brunei beginning Monday.

“We have raised the issue of visa restrictions earlier. But things continue to be bad for our IT professionals. The Minister will discuss these in addition to problems related to expiry of the duty-free export scheme,” a Commerce Department official told Business Line.

The US has, over the past two years, made it difficult for Indian IT companies such as Wipro, Infosys and TCS to carry out its work in the US. Under tough visa norms, not only have fees been increased several-fold for companies that have more than 50 per cent non-American employees, the Immigration Bill being debated by the US Congress could also impose steep fines on US-based Indian IT companies.

“Although IT body Nasscom has received assurances from various quarters that the Bill is being diluted and harmful provisions targeting Indian companies would be deleted, the Minister would also like to get the same assurance from the USTR,” the official said.


Besides, there are other irritants that Sharma may take up, including increased cases of visa rejection which has shot up to 45 per cent from 5 per cent over the last 18 months. The mandate given to the US Consulate in Chennai to process all L visa (a category of professional visa) applications has compounded the IT industry’s woes, as it is inconvenient and expensive for companies located in other cities to get employees sent over for their visa interviews.

Sharma may also press for renewal of the Generalised System of Preferences (that lapsed last month) under which select commodities from developing countries are allowed into the US duty-free. India was the largest beneficiary of the scheme in 2011.

While India’s tardy implementation of its intellectual property laws has dominated talks between the US and Indian trade leaders ever since India granted compulsory licence for production of Bayer’s patented liver and cancer drug, the USTR is likely to be more subdued this time round.

“The US has already come under a lot of criticism after it upturned Samsung’s patent, apparently to protect consumer interest, since it has been so far reprimanding India for taking steps to ensure availability of life-saving medicines for its poor,” the official said.

Other issues that may be discussed between the two sides include a Bilateral Investment Treaty that the US has been pushing for some time, and the long-pending totalisation agreement on exempting short-term workers from contributing to the US’ social security scheme.

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