US can't hide behind immigration at WTO: India

13 December, 2005

Hong Kong, December 14: The United States will have to open its market to more foreign temporary workers as part of any new world trade deal, despite strong opposition in the US Congress, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said on Wednesday.

The United States 'can't hide behind saying this is an immigration issue', Nath said on the sidelines of a World Trade Organisation meeting where countries are trying to keep alive chances of reaching a new world trade deal by the end of 2006.

The issue of allowing more engineers, computer programmers and other workers to travel across borders to provide services is one of the most politically sensitive issues facing the United States in the talks.

Many members of Congress view the issue as an immigration matter and strongly oppose the Bush administration making new commitments in that area as part of a trade deal.

"But as long as services remains part of the WTO, you can't hide behind saying this is an immigration issue. Having said that, I also must say that India is not asking for the movement of people on the immigration side," Nath said.

What India wants is increased access for its professionals to visit the United States for aftersales service, Nath said.

"When India is talking about visas, we're talking about a one-month or two-month visa to implement a contract. Not to have people going there just to find jobs," Nath said.

The United States itself has huge ambitions in the services negotiations. It wants to knock down overseas barriers that keep US companies in the financial, telecommunication, express delivery and other service sectors from expanding abroad.

US negotiators 'recognise that what we are talking is a non-immigrant project', Nath said.

"They now need to structure a policy which is on the non-immigrant side of movement of people," he said.

Deputy US Trade Representative Peter Allgeier said it remained to be seen what new access Washington could offer for temporary workers.

"This is an area in which there is very strong congressional feeling and we have to deal with that in the course of the negotiations," Allgeier noted.

Overall negotiations on services have made little progress since world trade talks were launched four years, mainly because India, Brazil and other major developing countries have insisted on a deal in agriculture before moving onto to other areas.