India, US try to break WTO logjam before Modi visit


us-nirmalaWith India and the US looking to forge a robust economic partnership, India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met US Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Caroline Atkinson to discuss contentious issues relating to the stalled WTO agreement.

Weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington September 29-30, Sitharaman and Atkinson discussed India’s stand in the WTO on the food security issues, intellectual property rights in India, US visa policy, and Totalisation Agreement.  While the US expressed its concerns over India’s stand in the WTO, Sitharaman is reported to have reiterated India’s position on the public stock holding for food security purposes.

Earlier, India had decided not to ratify WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), evoking huge criticism from developed nations like US and those in the EU. India wanted the Trade Facilitation Agreement to be accompanied by a parallel agreement giving it more freedom to subsidise and stockpile food grains than is currently allowed under the WTO rules.

India, home to a third of the world’s abjectly poor people, has argued that the Trade Facilitation Agreement would be detrimental to its ability to provide for its neediest citizens. The US, on the other hand, contended that India’s posture on the agreement would hamper the gains it would receive by creating a level playing field under the WTO agreement.

The Totalisation Agreement with the US would ensure that an expatriate in either country need not contribute to social security schemes of the host country. India has raised its concerns about the proposed law, The United States Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernisation Bill, 2013, which seeks to deny access to visas or place additional visa related restrictions, including higher fees. This, India fear, would make it difficult for Indian IT companies working in the US to hire foreign-born workers under its H-1B vsia policy.

The US administration is all too aware of India’s concerns on this issue. “And we are very aware of the need to make sure that there are more people able to travel, more people able to become part of the commerce…,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry after holding the fifth India-US strategic dialogue with Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on July 31.