1. Commerce min approaches PMO to liberalise visa regime to boost trade

Commerce min approaches PMO to liberalise visa regime to boost trade

The commerce ministry is seeking easier visa rules in areas including tourism, business visits, healthcare, and for people wishing to come to the country to attend seminars and conferences

By: | New Delhi | Published: June 8, 2016 7:44 AM

The commerce ministry has taken up with the Prime Minister’s Office and the home ministry a proposal to liberalise visa rules for easier movement of professionals so that services trade gets a leg-up, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

The proposal seems aimed at not just boosting services trade, but also conveying India’s seriousness in walking the talk should other countries endorse its views on greater liberalisation in services trade. Moreover, such a step would boost programmes like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’.

The commerce ministry is seeking easier visa rules in areas, including tourism, business visits, healthcare, and people wishing to come to the country to attend seminars and conferences. Commerce secretary Rita Teaotia is learnt to have held discussion on the issue at the PMO on Tuesday.

The ministry isn’t advocating a liberalised visa regime with some other nations on a strictly reciprocal basis, but as a step to usher in the era of freer movement of professionals to boost trade.

Trade analysts feel such a move could also put pressure on countries like the US, which have resorted to protectionist measures that are hurting the Indian industry.

Already, India and the US are engaged in a bilateral consultation process at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the US move to drastically hike the H-1B and L-1 visa charges, which is estimated to quadruple the Indian IT industry’s annual visa costs to $400 million.

The services sector has assumed importance in India’s trade talks with other nations in recent years, as it accounts for more than a half of the country’s gross domestic product, 28% of its jobs, 35% of its total exports and 20% of its imports, showed the official data.

Still, the country’s services exports make up for just over 3% of the global services exports, suggesting that the sector’s vast potential is yet to be properly tapped.

Segregated data on services soon

The government could provide segregated data on the country’s services trade in the next nine months, which will help officials negotiate better under various trade talks, including RCEP, Arvind Mehta, additional secretary in the commerce ministry, said on Tuesday at an event organised by ICRIER.

The country’s chief statistician, TCA Anant, too, echoed the sentiments, saying that the non-availability of segregated data on services potentially affects the quality of trade negotiations.

ICRIER study moots panel on services statistics A new report by ICRIER, released by Mehta on Tuesday, has called for the setting up of a panel, to be headed by the commerce secretary, to oversee the collection of data on services trade.

This panel should have representation from different ministries and departments, industry associations, regulatory and professional bodies and trade promotion bodies, said the report, titled “Institutional framework for collection of statistics on trade in services: four pilot surveys on trade in audio-visual, logistics, professional and telecommunication services”.

The report called for a new approach in entrusting the responsibility on a service provider to submit or file information and data within a prescribed time period in line with those followed under the Companies Act 2013 or the Income Tax Act, 1961.

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