Seeking to reset India-US business ties hit by recent differences, finance minister P Chidambaram on Thursday said the two countries can do much better when they work together.
And not blame each other as they have recently, instead of finding ways to overcome challenges, he said, brought on by global slowdown, which shows no sign of letting up.
“We are here to offer a hand of friendship,” the minister said to a packed-to-capacity auditorium at the US chamber of Commerce, just cross a small park from the White House.
The reconciliatory tone, however, didn’t last long enough to prevent him from making India’s case that its policies are fair and in compliance with international laws.
And that India, in fact, was a victim of US discrimination.
“To the best of my understanding,” Chidambaram said, “in no language, in no dictionary is immigration defined as temporary relocation of knowledge workers.”
The immigration bill as passed recently by the senate seeks to erect non-tariff barriers on this temporary relocation. “We must find a way to disentangle this issue,” he added.
He then moved to some issues raised by a US industry lobby for secretary of state John Kerry to take up at the recently concluded India-US strategic dialogue in New Delhi.
One of those issues -- preferential market access, mandating domestic procurement of specified goods -- has been resolved with the Indian government shelving the plan last week.
But intellectual property rights issues such as patents and related compulsory licensing remain on the table, for US government and business. And the Indian government.
On compulsory licensing -- forced sharing of a patent for a fee -- the minister said India had issued only one in the “66-67 years” since independence -- only one.
An Intellectual Property Appellate Board of India allowed last March a Hyderabad firm to sell a cheaper version of Bayer AG’s liver and kidney cancer drug Nexavar.
“The developed world issued 50,” he said, proceeding to list the worst transgressors: Canada, four; Italy, four; Going down to one by the US. So, why single out India?
The finance minister then addressed a patent issue that has troubled the US pharmaceutical industry -- the Supreme Court order on a cancer Novartis, a Swiss firm.
The court ruled in April that Gleevec, a cancer drug, did not qualify for a patent because it was only an improvement on its predecessor, not a new product.
The ruling had global implications because Indian pharma companies the world’s leading marketers of generics, specially in emerging and under-developed economies.
The order was completely WTO compliant, the minister said.
Without naming names, Chidambaram charged US companies of politicizing business rivalries with Indian companies, turning them into political issues between the two countries.
“A few cases of business rivalries are promptly brought to the political table and converted into a political issue between the two countries,” said Chidambaram.