India trade minister accuses US of trade protectionism

India's Trade Minister Anand Sharma gestures as he speaks with the media after interacting with students at a college in Mumbai on Feb 11, 2014. India's trade minister on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, accused the United States of excessive trade prote
India's Trade Minister Anand Sharma gestures as he speaks with the media after interacting with students at a college in Mumbai on Feb 11, 2014. India's trade minister on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, accused the United States of excessive trade protectionism, launching a broadside that coincided with the visit of a top US official to patch up a stormy bilateral friendship. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - India's trade minister on Tuesday accused the United States of excessive trade protectionism, launching a broadside that coincided with the visit of a top US official to patch up a stormy bilateral friendship.

Trade Minister Anand Sharma, speaking at a news briefing, also said that India's patent law was compliant with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

India would not agree to tougher rules on protecting intellectual property, he added.

"There are issues which India has raised where we feel there is very high and unacceptable protectionism," he told reporters in New Delhi. He also said Washington made it too hard for Indian nationals to obtain US visas.

Bilateral trade friction has increased ahead of a general election in India, amid lingering tension over the recent arrest and strip search of a female diplomat in New York suspected of visa fraud.

US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal was due to visit India on a trip starting on Tuesday. The trip, originally planned for December, was called off at the height of the row over the arrest of Indian envoy Devyani Khobragade.

The ruling Congress party government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not want to be seen as bowing to US pressure on trade issues ranging from the quality of Indian drug exports to software piracy.

India has made clear it would prefer to see bilateral disputes reviewed under the auspices of the WTO, the global trade rules body, which is adjudicating on more than a dozen cases between the two countries.

Referring to intellectual property, Mr Sharma said India was adhering to the so-called TRIPS agreement but would never accept any "TRIPS-plus" arrangements.

TRIPS, or the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, is administered by the WTO.

India opposes stricter agreements sought by its Western trading partners that would assure greater patent protection for proprietary medications, potentially dealing a blow to its own generic drugmakers and making it harder for patients to get affordable medicines.

"India has protected its commitment to the TRIPS agreement.

But what is being asked of India is TRIPS plus," Sharma told reporters. "TRIPS plus, India has made it clear, India will never accept."

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is also due to travel to India next week. His visit was also postponed because of the diplomatic row.