27 MAY 2016
GS III: ECONOMY-WTO
India to seek WTO panel to rule on U.S. visa fees row
India will soon ask the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body to establish a panel of experts to adjudicate its dispute with the U.S. over the increase in visa fees, government sources said.
This follows the failure of India and the U.S. to arrive at an amicable solution during the consultations held on May 11 and 12 under the auspices of the WTO, they said. India’s decision — to seek the setting up of the panel — is likely to be announced after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 7-8 visit to the U.S. According to WTO norms, if consultations fail, the complaining country can ask the settlement body to appoint a panel.
As per the WTO rules, India notified the WTO Secretariat on March 3 that it has “initiated a WTO dispute proceeding against the U.S. regarding measures imposing increased fees on certain applicants for two categories (H-1B and L-1) of non-immigrant temporary working visas into the U.S., as well as measures relating to numerical commitments for some visas.” According to India, the measures appear to be inconsistent with the U.S. commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the WTO stated.
India said the visa fee increase is “discriminatory” against Indian firms as these (H-1B and L-1) are the same categories that are most extensively used by Indian service suppliers, especially in the information technology sector.
India, during the consultation process, categorically stated that the Obama administration’s rationale of using the visa fee hike to raise revenue (in this case, to finance a biometric tracking system and healthcare requirements of the 9/11 terror attack victims) and Washington’s “implicit justification” of this move could “open a Pandora’s Box,” the sources said.
India warned that the U.S.’s decision to continue with the implementation of the visa fee increase could result in other nations deliberately raising customs duties on goods to increase revenue for their domestic programmes. This is because the applied duties on many goods in several countries are much lower than the duty levels on those goods they have legally committed — or bound — in the WTO, giving them ample room to increase their ‘applied ’duties up to the ‘bound’ level.
Such ‘protectionist’ actions (of hikes in visa fees and duties) will in turn further hurt global trade, which is already going through a major slowdown owing to weak demand in many markets.
Washington also informed that the visa fee hike was part of a legislation (the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016), and therefore it would not be possible to make any changes without addressing the legislation as a whole, the sources said.
GS II: BILATERAL (INDIA-CHINA)
India, China agree to advance ongoing boundary negotiations
Cordial and clear discussions on sensitive issues marked India-China talks during President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Beijing but no significant change in divergent positions was realised.
Just before Mr. Mukherjee’s visit, Chinese spokespersons had voiced opposition to India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group without signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Mr. Mukherjee’s delegation apprised its Chinese counterparts about India’s aims to rapidly expand its civilian nuclear programme in line with the country’s energy needs.
Cooperation on n-energy
Xiao Qian, Director-General of Asian region in China’s ministry of foreign affairs, briefing the press following the meeting also said that the two leaders “agreed to strengthen cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.
The two leaders discussed ways to strengthen cooperation in “investment, trade and tourism”. Chinese officials also showed interest in India’s flagship schemes such as ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ and in possibilities of investment in the Smart Cities project.
Specifically, China has also agreed to accommodate more Indian tourists (seven batches or around 400 people this year) to visit Kailash Mansarovar via the Nathu La pass into Tibet.
The two leaders also agreed to advance the ongoing boundary negotiations under the ‘Special Representatives’ mechanism, and at the same time resolved to take actions to maintain peace and tranquillity in the boundary regions.
GS II: INTERNATIONAL-G7 NATIONS
G7 discusses economy, terror
Group of Seven (G7) leaders voiced concern about emerging economies at a summit in Japan as their host, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, made a pointed comparison to the 2008 global financial crisis but not all his G7 partners appeared to agree.
Other summit topics include terrorism, cyber-security and maritime security, especially China’s increasing assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, where Beijing has territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian nations.
G7 leaders agreed that it was important to send a clear signal on the South and East China Seas, Mr. Seko told reporters, adding that China was mentioned in discussions on maritime matters . At a news conference late on Wednesday, Mr. Abe saidJapan welcomed China’s peaceful rise while repeating Tokyo’s opposition to acts that try to change the status quo by force and urging respect of the rule of law .
GS II: HEALTH
Bread makers to stop using harmful additives
The All India Bread Manufacturers’ Association said it had decided to voluntarily stop using potassium bromate and potassium iodate as additives in bread .
Safer alternatives such as ascorbic acid, enzymes and emulsifiers will be used instead.
In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as Class 2B — possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing).
Ban in EU, China
While the European Union and many countries, including China, have banned potassium bromate as a flour treatment agent, the U.S. and India have permitted its use.
The FDA approves its use up to 75 parts per million (ppm) in flour, while India has limited it to 50 ppm in bread and 20 ppm in flour and refined wheat flour (maida).
As the CSE results show, none of the bread and bakery samples tested exceeded the maximum permissible limit of 50 ppm and hence did not violate the Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Additives) Regulations, 2011.
Even when potassium iodate is not used, breads will still contain traces of it as the chemical is used for producing iodised salt in India. The European Union, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand have banned potassium iodate for flour treatment.