UPDATE 1-U.S. business groups complain about India trade practices

(Reuters) – Leading U.S. business groups on Wednesday urged PresidentBarack Obama to act against what they said were “unacceptable” Indian trade practices that have hurt U.S. exports in areas ranging frompharmaceuticals to electronics.

The National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups expressed their concerns in a letter that was still being circulated on Wednesday to collect more signatures. It was expected to be sent to the White House within days.

“The government of India is discriminating against a wide range of U.S. exports, jeopardizing domestic jobs and putting at risk a growing bilateral trading relationship worth more than $60 billion last year,” the groups said.

“These actions are unacceptable for a responsible middle-income country and rising global power,” the groups said.

The letter is the latest sign of U.S. business frustration with Indian industrial policies that throw barriers to imports in bid to create domestic jobs.

“We urge the U.S. government immediately to initiate bilateral engagement at the highest levels and to coordinate closely with the European Union and other like-minded economies. If this engagement is not fruitful, we ask the U.S. government to respond purposefully, using all available trade tools and diplomatic engagement,” the letter said.

The flurry of activity comes one day before White House international economic affairs adviser Michael Froman is scheduled to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on his nomination to be the next U.S. Trade Representative.

During that hearing, Froman could face question on an array of trade concerns, including Indian government policies.

The Washington-based Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in a recent paper accused the Indian government of “stripping” foreign biopharmaceutical companies of valuable patent protections and imposing local content requirements that could potentially block foreign equipment manufacturers from a huge section of the Indian market.

Linda Dempsey, vice president for international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, said business leaders want U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to raise the concerns when he travels to India later this month for high-level talks.

“To have the type of strategic relationship that our government wants, we need to get these very important commercial and economic issues dealt with,” Dempsey said.

“We all want to see manufacturing grow there in the United States. This is a threat to that … To have other countries flout the economic system, to try to grow their economy at the expense of ours,” she said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)