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U.S. groups form alliance to push for Indian trade reforms

A sales assistant arranges clothing inside a V-Mart retail store in New Delhi April 6, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A sales assistant arranges clothing inside a V-Mart retail store in New Delhi April 6, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A coalition of U.S. business groups on Tuesday demanded President Barack Obama's administration increase pressure on India to change trade policies that they said threaten U.S. exports, jobs and innovation.

The move comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to India next week for the fourth annual U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue.

"Today we are calling on the Obama administration to raise concerns immediately at the highest levels of the Indian government and to press for real results," Linda Dempsey, vice president for international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, told reporters.

"If India does not act swiftly to comply with its international obligations, we believe that all trade and diplomatic options must be on the table," Dempsey said in a conference call to announce the groups' new coalition, the Alliance for Fair Trade with India (AFTI).

The move by a newly formed coalition of fourteen U.S. business groups follows a letter from the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance Committee that also urged that Kerry raise trade concerns on his visit.

The groups - which also include the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Motion Picture Association of America, Biotechnology Industry Association, National Foreign Trade Council and Solar Energy Industries Association - complained India was trying to boost its domestic manufacturers at the expense of foreign suppliers.

It has done that through a variety of means, including local content requirements, court decisions that invalidate valuable drug patents held by U.S. companies and failure to stop piracy of U.S. music, movies and software, the groups said.

"This trend is bad for India, it's bad for investment and it's bad for international trade," said Mark Elliot, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber's Global Intellectual Property Center. "India is the international outlier" when it comes to protection of intellectual property, he said.

Dempsey and Elliot acknowledged it was unusual for their groups to form a coalition directed at one particular country.

As difficult as U.S.-China trade relations have been, the U.S. Chamber and NAM never forged an alliance dedicated to addressing those trade concerns.

But "over the last year, 18 months we've just seen action after action that really is about discriminating against foreign exports, inputs and sales into the Indian market," Dempsey said.

"We think by joining our voices together we can explain better to our own government and frankly the Indian government how to move this forward," she said.

The United States has already filed one case against India at the World Trade Organization against solar energy policies that it says unfairly discriminate against foreign firms.

Some lawmakers have suggested removing India from the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences program to express U.S. concern. That program waives duties on billions of dollars of India's exports to the United States.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer)

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