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India, US agree to hold comprehensive talks to address trade issues




India and the US have agreed to hold official-level comprehensive talks to address trade and economic issues, days after President Donald Trump accused New Delhi of charging 100 per cent tariff on some of the US’ goods.

The decision in this regard was taken during a series of meetings visiting Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu had with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

“We will now work together to expand (bilateral) trade, Prabhu told a group of Indian reporters here yesterday at the conclusion of his two-day trip to the US.

India will send an official team to work out the details and initiate a comprehensive negotiation on all issues concerning trade and economic relationship between the two countries. “The team will come within the next few days,” Prabhu said.

Acknowledging that both sides have trade and tariff issues with each other, the minister said officials would hold talks on all of them.

President Trump, in a press conference in Canada’s Quebec City where he attended the G7 summit, took a swipe at India along with the world’s other top economies and accused New Delhi of charging 100 per cent tariff on some of the US’ goods, as he threatened to cut trade ties with countries who are robbing America.

Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Singh Sarna said New Delhi has written to the US on steel and aluminum tariff.

A full-fledged case has been made by India for waiver of steel and aluminum tariffs, he added. “It has been a very positive engagement.”

In addition to Ross and Lighthizer, Prabhu held talks with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. He also met two powerful Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner – the two co-chairs of the Senate India caucus.

“The meetings were held in a friendly and cordial atmosphere, with appreciation for each other’s points of view. Discussions centered around bilateral trade and commercial relations between the two countries and focused on finding the way forward to address concerns of both sides,” the Indian Embassy said in a readout of the meetings.

“In this context, it was agreed that Indian and US officials would meet at a senior level at an early date to discuss various issues of interest to both sides and carry forward the discussions in a positive, constructive and result oriented manner,” it said.

During his two-day visit to Washington DC, Prabhu addressed business and industry leaders in meetings organised by US-India Business Council (USIBC) and US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) and held meetings with other stakeholders.

“It’s a great time to join hands with each other. And that’s the realisation within the (Trump) administration as well. Therefore, we have really decided to move on. As you know, we always hear the trade disputes between US and India, but when I had meeting with the USTR, with the Commerce Secretary, with Agriculture Secretary, with Senators, it is very clear that we must move on, keep the issues behind, Prabhu told industry leaders at a reception hosted by USIBC in association with the FICCI and Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

In his interaction with industry leaders at an event organised by the USISPF, Prabhu spoke about the improvements that have been made in the trade relationship, including trade deficit reduction.

Every great partnership has areas of agreement and disagreement. I’m hopeful that the US investment corridor is only going to grow, and I’m confident that we will be able to bridge our gaps, Prabhu noted.

The industry interaction included senior officials from leading US companies such as: Boston Scientific, FedEx, Walmart, Abbott, UTC, Honeywell, PhRMA, MoneyGram International, Lockheed Martin, Koch Industries, Amway, Uber, 21st Century Fox, and Medtronic.

Noting that India and the US have an important strategic relationship and shared goals, USIBC president Nisha Desai Biswal said the council is a constructive partner in achieving the full potential of the US-India commercial opportunity.

The USIBC roundtable organised in association with the CII comprised of US and Indian industry giants from the energy, aerospace, ICT, life sciences and defence sectors who reiterated India’s position as a critical market while also raising issues facing their companies such as data localization and price controls, as well as public procurement and operational hurdles.

In engaging with critical stakeholders, Prabhu highlighted the ongoing policy reforms being pursued by India to improve its business climate and remove bureaucratic hurdles.

Prabhu noted that India will soon release its new Industrial Policy, aimed at transforming India into a modern, flourishing, economic powerhouse.

During the interaction, he emphasized the importance of a dispute redressal mechanism, and resolving such issues together in a way that does not derail but rather strengthens bilateral ties.

Under Trump, trade dispute between India and the US has increased, with his administration asking New Delhi to lower its trade barriers and open up its market.

Trump has repeatedly raked up the issue of India imposing high import duty on the iconic Harley-Davidson motorcycles and threatened to increase the import tariff on “thousands and thousands” of Indian motorcycles to the US.

International News

UK links India’s refusal to sign MoU on illegal migrants to strict student visa norms




The UK government has directly linked the exclusion of Indian students from a list of countries offered easier visa norms to India’s refusal to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the return of illegal migrants.

Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, said the reason India had been excluded from a newly-expanded list of countries from where overseas students can benefit from a more streamlined UK university application process was that of the issue of Indian overstayers remained unresolved.

This is a constant conversation we need to have with India. There is always a demand for easier norms, but we cannot look at that without addressing the issue of overstayers, Fox said on the sidelines of the launch of UK-India Week in London on Monday.

On being asked if India’s refusal to sign the MoU relating to illegal migrants had resulted in India’s exclusion from an expanded list of countries covering the likes of China, the Maldives, Mexico and Bahrain, the minister said it was important to ensure that all issues are looked at on balance.

Our relationship with India is long-term and not just related to trade, he said, dismissing the notion that the move could damage the prospect of a post-Brexit trade deal between the two countries.

The Indian Cabinet had approved the so-called MoU on returns to facilitate the deportation of alleged illegal Indian immigrants in the UK to India and vice-versa days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Britain to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in mid-April. The agreement was touted as the centrepiece of the nearly 25 MoUs to be signed between the two countries during the Indian PM’s UK visit.

However, India reportedly backed out of signing the pact at the last-minute due to reservations expressed by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) about Indian agencies being given only 15 days to verify the background of an undocumented migrant.

We are in favour of smooth and legal migration and discourage all kinds of illegal migration, Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for home affairs, had said after he initialled the MoU during a UK visit in January.

The issue has since been caught up in political wrangles, with the Indian government insisting the timelines being offered for the verification of the alleged visa overstayers from India are not feasible to determine whether they are from India or elsewhere in the sub-continent.

Senior Indian officials have admitted that the issue has strained the bilateral relationship, which has now resulted in India being excluded from Tier 4 overseas student visa relaxations unveiled by the UK Home Office last week. The move triggered outrage among Indian student groups in Britain and other leading figures within the bilateral space, including some branding it an insult to India by including non-democratic countries on the list but excluding the world’s largest democracy.

Addressing the UK-India Week launch, Indian High Commissioner here Y K Sinha, said it was important that free movement of people remains at the heart of future ties because it is the students and youth who sustain the bilateral relationship.

Indian students contribute immensely, not just to the economy of this country but in terms of their expertise. International students are the best soft power tool that the UK has, Sinha said.

Ours is a free country and we believe in the free movement of people. Each country has its own requirements and is free to decide its own immigration policies, but we need to look at the larger picture, he said, describing the visa policy as a question of demand and supply .

The UK needs more doctors, we will give you those doctors. But we do need them back home too; so once they acquire the expertise within the NHS [National Health Service], please send them back, he added.

Indian-origin House of Lords peer and investment banker Jitesh Gadhia welcomed the UK government’s Tier 2 visa relaxation for doctors and other professionals from countries like India.

Alas, that doesn’t yet apply to Tier 4 visas for Indian students, but I am sure there is some work to do there… There is sincere hope in India that Britain will become more flexible and receptive to its suggestions once it is outside the European Union (EU), Gadhia noted in his speech at the launch of UK-India Week.

The week-long set of events, organised by UK-based media house India Inc, are aimed at bringing together senior figures in the UK with their counterparts from India in an attempt to enhance the bilateral relationship.

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International News

Trump’s top immigration officials refuse to apologize for splitting up families

News Desk




The US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their families after they are caught trying to cross the border into America.

The “zero tolerance” policy at the border, with means all cases of adult illegal entry are sent for criminal prosecution, has led to the separation of parents and children and sparked a nationwide backlash. Defending the approach Mr Trump reiterated the importance of border security. “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility… not on my watch,” he said.

Nielsen, appointed by Trump, later told reporters at a White House briefing that the administration was only strictly enforcing the law. We will not apologise for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does,’ news reports quoted her as saying. The reports said Nielsen was at the time speaking to a friendly audience of the National Sheriffs’ Association. She added that “illegal actions have and must have consequences”.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also addressed the police officers said that the government “will not encourage migrants to bring children”. He said if Mr Trump was given the funding he has requested for construction of a border wall, the problem of illegal immigration would be reduced and officials would not be confronted by “terrible choices” such as splitting up families.

Earlier governments followed a “catch and release” policy. Immigrants caught trying to get into the US illegally were released back to their home countries. The Trump government’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, however, means all adults trying to enter the US, including those seeking asylum illegally, are arrested. While parents are held in jail, their children are sent to separate detention facilities, some in remote locations. Video footage released by the government showed migrant children held in wire cages, sitting on concrete floors.

The separation of children from their families has caused outrage in the US and around the world. The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein recently called it “unconscionable” and an “abuse” of the children.

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Record 68.5 million people displaced worldwide: UN





A record 68.5 million people have been forced flee their homes due to war, violence and persecution, notably in places like Myanmar and Syria, the UN said today.

By the end of 2017, the number was nearly three million higher than the previous year and showed a 50-per-cent increase from the 42.7 million uprooted from their homes a decade ago, according to a report by the UN refugee agency.

The current figure is equivalent to the entire population of Thailand, and the number of people forcibly displaced equates to one in every 110 persons worldwide, it said.

“We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

But around 70 per cent of that number are people from just 10 countries, he told reporters in Geneva ahead of the report’s launch.

“If there were solutions to conflicts in those 10 countries, or in some of them at least, that huge figure, instead of rising every year, could start going down,” he said, calling for more political will to halt the crises driving so many from their homes.

The report showed that 16.2 million people were freshly displaced last year, and included those forced to flee for the first time as well as those who had been previously displaced. This equates to some 44,500 people being pushed out of their homes every day — or one person every two seconds, UNHCR said.

Most people flee within their own country and are defined as internally displaced people, or IDPs. By the end of 2017, there were some 40 million IDPs worldwide, down slightly from previous years, with Colombia, Syria and Democratic Republic of Congo accounting for the greatest numbers.

Another 25.4 million people — more than half of them children — were registered as refugees last year. That is nearly three million more than in 2016, and “the highest known total to date”, it said.

Syria’s seven-year conflict alone had, by the end of last year, pushed more than 6.3 million people out of the country, accounting for nearly one-third of the global refugee population. Another 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced.

The second largest refugee-producing country in 2017 was Afghanistan, whose refugee population grew by five per cent during the year to 2.6 million people. The increase was due mainly to births and more Afghans being granted asylum in Germany, UNHCR said.

South Sudan, meanwhile, saw the largest increase last year, with the number of refugees fleeing the world’s youngest nation soaring from 1.4 million at the beginning of the year to 2.4 million at the end.

Grandi said South Sudan was experiencing “a very bad emergency” which had apparently escaped the notice of both the government and the opposition who did not appear to be “taking seriously the desperate situation of their own people.”

Refugees from Myanmar more than doubled last year to 1.2 million, as a brutal army crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to pour across the border into Bangladesh.

Today’s report also highlighted large-scale displacements in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and DR Congo among others. And as Israel marks 70 years of independence, there are some 5.4 million Palestinians still living as refugees, it said.

Despite the focus on migrant numbers arriving in Europe and the United States, a full 85 per cent of refugees are living in low- and middle-income countries like Lebanon, Pakistan and Uganda, Grandi said.

Turkey was hosting by far the largest number of refugees, with 3.5 million registered there by the end of 2017, most of them Syrians.

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