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‘US companies are in India too’: Did Sitharaman issue a veiled threat on visa row?

Concerned over Indian companies getting hit by tightening of US visa rules, Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the “whole debate” has to be expanded to include several American firms that are earning their profits in India.

The comments assume significance in the wake of Indian companies, especially IT services providers, getting concerned over protectionism by the US and several other countries. Sitharaman said, “Let us also understand that not just Indian companies in the US, several big US companies are in India too. They are also here, they are earning their margins, they are earning their profits which goes to the US economy.

“So, it is a situation where it’s not just unilateral just Indian companies having too face the US executive order, there are several US companies in India who are doing business for some years now and therefore I want this whole debate to be … if it has to be expanded, it has to be expanded to include all these aspects and we shall ensure that all these factors are kept in mind.”

The minister said that developed nations are now clearly raising protectionist walls with regard to flow of labour and a WTO-backed global framework is needed to facilitate the services trade.

Citing examples of the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, which are making their visa norms stricter for movement of skilled professionals, she said: “Countries are now very clearly raising protectionist walls as regards service trade.”

“And it is time that we have a global framework within which trade in services can happen. We will be actively pursuing our proposal in the WTO,” she told reporters here.

The proposal is aimed at liberalising rules for movement of professionals and other steps to reduce transaction costs to boost services growth.

India is pitching for this pact at the WTO as the services sector contributes over 60 per cent to GDP and 28 per cent to total employment. The move is aimed at developing a broader framework governing global services trade similar to a pact implemented by the WTO on goods trade.

India wants all the member countries to study the proposal before the forthcoming ministerial meeting in Argentina in December.

About the executive order signed by US President Donald Trump on H1B visas, she said America has committed a certain number of these visas to India and “we would definitely want America to honour that commitment”.

The minister is in touch with the Indian industry on these issues amid fears that the new American visa regime would make visas more expensive and restrictive.

She further said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is in the US, would take up the matter with the US administration.

“It is not just the US, but several countries now adopting such measures,” she said, suggesting that the government and the industry need to work together on the issue.

According to Sitharaman, India will engage with these countries to sort out the visa related matters. The restrictive visa regime would…

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