US presses India for better WTO offer

Written by Reuters | Washington, February 26: | Updated: Feb 27 2008, 14:36pm hrs
India needs to offer US banks and other service companies increased access to its fast-growing market if it wants the United States to provide more temporary entry visas for Indian professionals, a US industry official said on Tuesday.

US service companies support India's bid to win more short-term visas, but few are willing to take on the politically difficult task of persuading Congress to agree to that as part of a new world trade deal, said Bob Vastine, president of the Coalition of Service Industries.

"Many companies don't think the game is worth the candle," Vastine said. They believe even if they were able to overcome opposition in Congress to an expanded business visa program, "India would still hold us up" by denying new market access in areas of interest to US service companies, he said.

The United States, as the world's largest exporter of services such as banking, express delivery, telecommunications and distribution, has a huge stake in the outcome of World Trade Organization services talks.

However, those negotiations have long taken a back seat to WTO agriculture and manufacturing talks, reflecting the top priority many developing countries give to having rich countries slash farm subsidies and tariffs.

India's desire to win more temporary entry visas for its information technology and other professionals is politically difficult for the United States because it would require lawmakers to change U.S. immigration law.

The Bush administration has steered clear of asking Congress to do that since 2003, when lawmakers strongly objected to business visa provisions included in US free trade pacts with Chile and Singapore.

If India were to offer more market access in areas like financial services, energy services, express delivery, distribution and telecommunications, US companies would have more incentive to lobby for visas, Vastine said during a panel discussion on India's role in the Doha round.

But so far, "there hasn't been a spelling out of what India would offer," Vastine said.

T.S. Vishwanath, director of international trade policy for the Confederation of Indian Industry, defended India's decision to take a defensive stance in the services negotiations after initially advocating more reform.

"US negotiators have not given us much comfort on Mode Four," Vishwanath said, using WTO jargon for services provided by nationals of one country in the territory of another.

It is hard for India to offer new market access on services, "when we see that our main demands are not being looked at seriously," Vishwanath said.

"I think the problem with the round is everyone is waiting for the other to put their chips on the table first," he said.