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PM on US mission with heavy agenda

Alok Mukherjee

SPRING IN HIS STEP: The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, leaving his residence for the US tour on Saturday. — Kamal Narang

New Delhi , July 16

THE Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, left for Washington on Saturday on his first official visit to the US, with a heavy agenda to carry forward the strategic relationship between the two countries.

Before his departure, the Prime Minister indicated that some of the initiatives under consideration include enhancing the content of the economic and energy dialogue between the two countries and to strengthen relations in the fields of science and technology. "We hope to enhance the content of our interactions in the field of space and civilian nuclear energy co-operation," Dr Singh said in a statement issued just before his departure.

According to official sources here, while most of the trade and investment issues would be dealt with by the Indo-US CEO's forum to be announced during the visit, significant announcements in nuclear energy co-operation would depend on the interactions between Dr Singh and the US President, Mr George W. Bush, and the initiatives taken at the highest level.

Among the issues likely to be finalised during the Prime Minister's visit is mutual recognition of professional qualifications for accountancy, medical services and construction-related engineering services. Besides, a restoration by the US of the Generalised System of Preferences for agricultural and pharmaceutical products is expected, especially in view of the passage of the Patents Act by India earlier this year.

A decision on a joint venture fund to support technical-oriented new companies, co-operation in infrastructure development, especially to draw on the US' experience in public-private partnership in this area, and co-operation in agricultural education and research are some of the other announcements expected during the visit.

Some areas, however, remain where the two sides have not yet reached any conclusive agreement. For instance, not much headway has been made on the Totalisation Pact (under which Indian techies working for brief periods in the US would be spared social security payments). Similarly, not much forward movement has taken place on an agreement on bilateral investment promotion in agriculture.

The Prime Minister would also have to address some US concerns, particularly regarding the entertainment industry. The US has expressed concern about rampant video piracy in India and the telecast of pirated movies through cable television. The problem for India is that curbing piracy is basically the responsibility of State governments with the Centre's role being minimal.

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