India to take up visa fee hike, import duty on Indian goods with U.S.

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Having failed to elicit any positive response from the Obama Administration on its plea to review the visa fee hike for Indian IT professionals, India will once again seek to impress upon the United States Government to review the fee hike and also end restrictive trade practices in the shape of imposition of import duty on Indian goods.

Union Commerce and Industry Minister, Anand Sharma will travel along with the Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee to Washington this week and take up these two important matters with the Obama administration.

Mr. Sharma will meet the U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Thursday to once again make a strong plea for withdrawal of the massive hike in professional visa fee that has been termed as “discriminatory” by the Indian government which had lodged protests against this move last year.

Mr. Sharma had written to Mr. Kirk on two occasions last year drawing his attention to the fact that the legislation mandating steep hike in visa fee unfairly targets Indian companies and estimated it would cost the country’s firms an extra $200 million a year. “It is inexplicable to our companies to bear the cost of such a highly discriminatory law,” Mr. Sharma had written. However, this had not drawn any kind of positive response from the Obama administration which continued to look to the other side on the issue instead of addressing the concerns of the Indian government.

Mr. Sharma is also expected to ask for speedy restoration of the generalised system of preferences scheme that allows duty-free imports of specific goods from developing countries like India. “The U.S. has failed to respond to India’s demand that the imposition of extra duties on government imports should be withdrawn. We want them to not only take note of the matter but also address the issue seriously as this move has serious protective regime tendencies,’’ a senior official said.

Incidentally, Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee along with Mr. Sharma will also be attending the CEO Forum together with the USTR and U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in Washington. “We expect the issues bothering us to be taken up strongly as CEOs from both sides are also hit by the measures,” the official said.

The increase in fees for H-1B and L1 visas for funding domestic programmes such as enhancing border security and meeting health needs of 9/11 victims has not gone down well with India as it feels that these could be inconsistent with the U.S. multilateral commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The additional 2 per cent duty imposed on government purchases from countries like India that are not part of the government procurement agreement of the WTO could also be against U.S. commitments.

IT body Nasscom reported increased negativism in granting visas and harassment at the port of entry in the U.S. and this may be a point of discussion.

Mr. Sharma will also travel to Chicago on Tuesday, the eve of the U.S.-India Economic opportunities and Synergies Summit being held in Chicago. The summit of the prestigious Executives Club of Chicago is being held in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

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