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US seeks ways to meet India worker demands at WTO

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 2: The Bush administration is working with members of Congress to find a way of meeting India's politically difficult demand in world trade talks that the United States open its market to more temporary workers, US Trade Representative Rob Portman said today (Mar 3, 2006).

''It's a very important issue to India. In order for us to be successful in the services area (of the trade talks), they're looking for some movement'' from Washington, Portman told reporters in a call from New Delhi, where he met with Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

India is pushing both the United States and the European Union in the World Trade Organization talks to agree to open their borders to more foreign computer programmers and other professionals working on short-term contracts.

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, and many other lawmakers have objected o including temporary worker commitments in US trade greements. They argue the provisions are a form of immigration that should be left to Congress to decide.

That stance has complicated US efforts to push for an agreement hat tears down barriers to services trade.

As one of the world's biggest service economies, the United States expects large gains from a pact that would make it easier for companies in sectors such as financial services, energy-related services, telecommunications, computer-related services and insurance to do business around the world.

Portman said he has been discussing with Sensenbrenner and other key members of Congress how to handle the issue.

It might be possible to meet India's demand without changing US laws or by coming up with a new approach providing for ''some regulated and congressionally approved short-term movement,'' Portman said.

''That would certainly be non-immigrant status but more restrictive than of our existent non-immigrant opportunities, like the H-1B visas,'' Portman said.

H-1B visas allow high-skilled foreigners in specialty fields such as engineering, architecture, medicine and the arts to work in the United States for up to six years.

Nath told Reuters in an interview in December that India was interested mainly in one- or two-month visas for professionals to implement contract.

The 149 members of the WTO hope to finish work on a new world trade pact by the end of 2006.


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