Sharma slams US protectionism, visa rules ahead of official visits

05 Mar 2014


Even as US assistant secretary of state Nisha Desai Biswal was due to arrive for a visit to India today, commerce and industries minister Anand Sharma told newspersons in New Delhi that the United States is erecting ''excessive'' trade barriers and making it hard for Indian professionals to get a visa.

Accusing the US of indulging in protectionism, Sharma said India would not accept such steps in the guise of tightening intellectual property rights.

"There are issues which India has raised where we feel there is very high and unacceptable protectionism," Sharma said.

He stressed that the US has made it very difficult for Indians to get visas to that country, apart from other protectionist measures hurting the economic engagement between the world's two largest democracies.

Trade friction between the two countries has only added to the recent cooling of relations between the two countries – there remains considerable diplomatic tension over the arrest and strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Kobragade in New York on suspicion of a visa fraud.

"There are issues which India has raised where we feel there is very high and unacceptable protectionism," Sharma told reporters.

He also said that India's patent law was compliant with the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and New Delhi would not agree to tougher rules to protect intellectual property.

India is furious about a decision by the Office of the United States Trade Representative to drag it before the WTO over the subsidies and local content rules it has set to promote solar power generation (See: US trade panel launches probe against India ).

Sharma's comments on US trade were also seen by commentators as reflecting India's frustration at the sluggish pace of India's exports to the US, though he forecast these would show a growth of 4-5 per cent in the current fiscal year that ends 31 March.

American official Biswal's visit was earlier scheduled for December, but was called off by New Delhi at the height of the row over the Khobragade incident.

Playing down the visit, Sharma said Biswal could meet trade ministry officials.

Earlier, the government had instructed its officials not to entertain any request from the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) - a quasi-judicial federal agency - to examine its trade practices.

Referring to intellectual property, Sharma said India was adhering to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which is administered by the WTO.

"India has protected its commitment to the TRIPS agreement. But what is being asked of India is TRIPS plus," Sharma said. "TRIPS plus, India has made it clear, India will never accept."

US energy secretary Ernest Moniz is also due to travel to India next week. His visit was also postponed because of the diplomatic row.

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