Clinton Looks to Allay Indian Tech-Trade Fears

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week pledged to work with Indian government and business officials to improve high-technology trade relations but offered no specifics about how that goal can be accomplished.

During a visit to India that ended early last week, Clinton agreed with officials there to continue talking, "with the objective of facilitating smoother trade in high technology between the two economies."

The talks have been dubbed the High Technology Cooperation Dialogue.

Clinton's statement appears to be an effort to lessen Indian concerns about U.S. protectionism that were triggered by a number of recent events. For instance, President Barack Obama in May commented that the U.S. has developed a tax code "that says you should pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, N.Y."

In an interview on Indian television, Clinton defended Obama, noting that he "has said we do not want a return to protectionism. Outsourcing is a concern for many communities and businesses in my country, so how we handle that is something that we're very focused on doing in a way that doesn't disrupt the great flow of trade and services that go between our countries."

Atul Vashistha, chairman of IT services consulting firm NeoIT Inc. in San Ramon, Calif., suggested that Clinton is trying to assure Indian officials and businesses that services export issues will be addressed in the talks. Indian IT companies want "all voices [to] be heard prior to any big decision," he added.

Vashistha said that India's IT leaders "believe that [Clinton's] comments make it clear that there is a push toward protectionism in the U.S. and that she'll be addressing it via [the] Dialogue."

U.S. officials must also mitigate fears among the Indian high-tech community that have been sparked by proposed U.S. legislation that would place a number of restrictions on overseas companies seeking H-1B visas, observers said.

The bill would also enable the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct random audits of employers that use H-1B visas and more closely investigate H-1B applications.

This version of this story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

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