Find 'just and non-discriminatory' solution on visa: India to US

Find 'just and non-discriminatory' solution on visa: India to US

Raising concerns over hike in visa fee for professionals, India today asked the US to find a "just and non-discriminatory" solution to the issue to avoid any adverse effect on the bilateral trade ties.

"The issue of totalisation and recent fee hike for H1B and L1 visa has affected our people-to-people exchanges, which is a vital source of strength for our relationship.

"...I would urge you to find a just and non-discriminatory solution to these issues," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said at the plenary session of the second Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD) here.

Speaking at the session, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman too said that some of the stakeholders have raised concerns regarding steps which have potential to act as barriers to the movement of natural persons and professionals.

"The concerns of our government in this regard have been conveyed in the past and we could hope that specific measures like these having potential to adversely impact our trade are avoided," she said.

The statement assumes significance as India has time and again raised the issue of hike in visa fees by the US. The country has also filed a case in the WTO against the US decision to impose high fees on temporary working visas.

Further, Sitharaman said that there is tremendous optimism regarding the promise and growing realisation of the potential for trade and investment between the two nations.

"The onus is purely on all of us to work together to strengthen the partnership between India and the US, as this partnership will have a significant role in shaping the global trade," the commerce minister said.

She also said that significant progress has been made on the recommendations made by the India-US CEO Forum on issues like standards, ease of doing business, innovation, entrepreneurship, infrastructure and smart city project.

There has been significant progress in trading across borders, she said, adding that on the policy of 'minimum government and maximum governance', there has been a conscious effort to make India a global hub for innovation, design and development.

Further she said that both the sides should identify and pick up some high growth potential hubs and facilitate partnership in other areas of technology and design.

In addition to bilateral engagements, the countries are working closely on important international fora including the WTO and international financial institutions like World Bank and IMF and UNSC for institutional reform and unfinished agendas.

Swaraj also said that trade and investment has continued to grow and more opportunities are opening after the additional reforms that India took recently.

As India unveils transformative economic programmes at home be it smart cities, Make in India, Digital India or renewable energy, the potential for doing business has never looked more appealing, she said.

"We see the US as an indispensable partner in achieving these goals," she added.

"And this is why we need strategic direction and enhanced oversight on our economic and commercial engagement: to make sure aspirations and interests of our businesses get high- level attention; to guarantee that our commercial relations do not remain transactional; and to foster better appreciation for the strategic priorities of our economic policies," Swaraj said.

She also expressed hope that the US will treat the issue of India's membership of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum positively. "This has as much strategic significance as it has commercial potential."

India is looking at early conclusion of the Totalisation Agreement or Social Security Agreement with the US.

The US has entered into this agreement with several nations for the purpose of avoiding double taxation of income with respect to social security taxes.

Under these, professionals of both the countries would be exempted from social security taxes when they go to work for a short period in other country.

The India-US bilateral trade stood at USD 109 billion last year. India has received USD 17.94 billion FDI from April 2000 and March 2016.

Sitharaman said the bilateral trade figure is much below the potential as complementarity between the two large democracies is very high.

It has been the endeavor of both the countries to use the institutional dialogues like Trade Policy Forum and S&CD to address the issues being faced by the trade and to look at broader economic policy initiatives.

"Our leaders have agreed to an ambitious target of taking the bilateral trade to USD 500 billion and this would require both the sides to work in close cooperation and resolve impediments to trade," she said.

She assured that India is strongly committed to make the country a better place to do business and to progressively liberalise economy to facilitate greater investment.

FDI from the US has increased from USD 804 million in 2013-14 to USD 4.19 billion in 2015-16.

The government's persistent efforts towards simplification of the tax regime have started showing impact and the passage of GST Bill is expected to provide the required boost for a simplified indirect tax regime, Sitharaman said.

Further, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code is expected to overhaul the existing framework for dealing with insolvency of corporates, individuals, partnerships and other entities, she said.

The government decision to open commercial courts, she said, is intended not only for speedy disposal of commercial disputes but also to reinforce investors’ perception of India as a preferred investment destination.

Further, the minister said that under the 'Innovation and Entrepreneurship Work Stream', it was agreed to share best practices in promoting a culture of innovation and creation of sister innovation hubs.

CII is progressing with the development of the standards portal in collaboration with ANSI and "we expect to launch the first version in September," she said.

The engagement between National Physical Laboratory on the Indian side and NIST on the US side has seen some tangible developments and we are looking forward to a more robust engagement in 2017, Sitharaman said.

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