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India, US pact on WTO food security a big deal: US trade rep

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India, US pact on WTO food security a big deal: US trade rep
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New Delhi: Ahead of the first ministerial-level meeting of the Trade Policy Forum (TPF) in four years, the Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman Monday described as a "big deal" the recent agreement with India on the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) aimed at easing custom rules.

“The TFA is a big deal which will be effective in reducing the cost of doing business for developed countries by 10 percent and that for developing countries by 14 percent, adding billions of dollars to the world economy" Froman said at a meeting of corporate leaders and officials organised here at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has successfully negotiated with the US to resolve the WTO impasse on the food security issue.

Froman said the agreement, which also reflects shared understandings regarding the WTO's work ’n food security, is in line with the US commitment to address the needs of India's food s’curity.

He also underlined the importance of US President Barack Obama slated visit in January, which would mark the first ever presence by a US president in the Republic Day celebrations as well as the first time that one would be visiting India twice in a tenure.

At another closed-door meeting with Indian business at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Froman highlighted the issues in both countries' trade relations regarding Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection, local sourcing norms, regulatory challenges and mobility of high skilled labor, CII said in a statement.

According to Froman, India needs to look at IPR norms more closely, CII added.

Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will meet with USTR Michael Froman Tuesday, while issues related to visa, totalisation agreement, market access for several agriculture products and IPR are expected to figure in the meeting.

India will ask the US to ensure that additional visa fees imposed under a Border Security law on professionals hired by its IT companies is not extended beyond 2015. India will also press for implementation of a long-pending social security agreement and dropping certain parts of the Visa Reforms Act.

Under the Border Security Act, the US has nearly doubled the visa fees for professionals (under H1B and L1 categories) to $4,500 for companies in which foreigners exceed 50 percent of the workforce.

India will also ask the US to conclude a totalisation or social security agreement that will allow professionals on short-term visas not to contribute towards social security.

Meanwhile, senior commerce ministry met Monday, ahead of the ministers' meeting.
"We had frank exchange of views. We will continue to work together and see how we can work towards a common goal", Commerce Secretary Rajeev Kher told reporters after the meeting.

"We had an excellent engagement. It was a good opportunity to hold discussions to prepare some advance work for TPF tomorrow. It was a productive discussion and we agreed for a follow up engagement," said deputy USTR Robert Holleyman.

The current bilateral trade stands at around $100 billion.

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