India to seek greater agri market access, to raise visa concerns

India is expected to press for greater market access for its agri products, particularly mangoes, pomegranates and litchis, and raise the visa issue during a meeting with a top US official here Thursday.

Updated: Jul 10, 2013, 16:36 PM IST

Washington: India is expected to press for greater market access for its agri products, particularly mangoes, pomegranates and litchis, and raise the visa issue during a meeting with a top US official here Thursday.

These issues are likely to come up during the bilateral meeting of Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma with US Trade Representative Mike Froman. Sharma is on a four-day visit to the country.

"India hopes that issues that currently constrain effective market access of Indian agricultural goods including mangoes, pomegranates and litchis can be resolved soon. Market access issues have held back bilateral cooperation," an official said.

While India has been seeking market access for exports of litchis to the country, the matter is stuck with the US Environmental Protection Agency, that is raising issues of Maximum Residue Limit of sulphur-di-oxide.

Although the US has allowed import of Indian mangoes in April, 2007, the proposal is not working well in view of the pre-condition of irradiation imposed by America.

India has been insisting that the responsibility of the pre-clearance inspection in this regard should be shifted to National Plant Protection Organisation.

On the visa issue, Sharma may make a case for doing away with protectionism specially with regard to free movement of professionals in addition to goods.

"India has been expressing its concern on protectionist measures, including visa related impediments that has affected the mobility of our professionals particularly in IT sector to USA," the official said.

New Delhi has also raised concerns over reports that suggest that the Senators may be considering proposals (under Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill) that seek to deny access to visas or place additional visa related restrictions.

Any legislation that seeks to selectively apply visa related restrictions only against Indian IT business interest in the US may impact the common efforts to strengthen economic and trade cooperation, the official added.

The US government's decision to centralise Blanket L visa at Chennai Consulate is another area of concern to the Indian IT industry.

Now all Indian and US companies have to send applicants to Chennai to get Blanket L visas stamped for their employees.

"This measure defeats the whole purpose of having Consular operations at various missions in big countries such as India. Applicants will have to travel more than 2000 Km from East and North India to get US visa.

"This measure, an absolute logistical nightmare for companies, is being termed as another measure to make the visa processing troublesome for companies that use India talent in their Global sourcing model," the official added.

Sharma may also raise the issue of restarting the negotiations for Totalization (social security) Agreement.

Indian employees working in the US do not have the benefits of Social Security as work visas are issued for a maximum of 6 years, while eligibility for Social Security benefits in the US requires residence of over 10 years.

The issue of Totalization Treaty is pending since long and has been highlighted consistently without any tangible progress.

The contribution by Indian professionals to the US Social Security is estimated to be more than USD 25 billion during the last decade.

Indian IT Industry in the US contributes over USD 1 billion annually by way of federal taxes.

"Both India and the US have entered into similar agreements with countries like Denmark, Belgium, Germany, and Canada. There is no reason why such an agreement cannot be concluded between India and the US," the official said.

Meanwhile, an official statement issued in New Delhi said that during the visit, Sharma will attend the US-India CEOs Forum Meeting here.

He is also expected to meet President and CEO of Walmart Asia Scott Price and Head for Global Public Policy, Ebay Ted Cohen.

"Sharma is likely to discuss the issues related to FDI in retail and e-commerce by US companies in India," it said.

The bilateral trade between India and US stood at USD 25.94 billion during January-May, 2013. The two way services trade was at USD 45.9 billion in 2010.

The US is the fifth largest source of FDI equity flows into India accounting for 5.75 per cent of total inflows during April 2000 to March, 2013. The total FDI inflows from the US during the period were at US 11.1 billion.