US criticizes India over intellectual property

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. criticized India's failure to curb intellectual property theft but said Wednesday it wants to tackle the issue with the nation's next government and push for a rapid expansion in trade.

Top diplomat for South Asia, Nisha Biswal, told a congressional hearing the U.S. wants two-way trade in goods and services to grow to $500 billion from $100 billion in the next decade.

Washington and New Delhi are looking to improve relations strained by a spat late last year over the arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat, who was eventually expelled from the U.S. after she was indicted on accusations of exploiting her housekeeper.

Biswal said there's "tremendous potential" for further deepening the U.S.-India relationship, which she noted enjoys support across the major party lines in both countries.

"We look forward to engagement with the new government that will take this to new heights," she told a House panel that oversees U.S. policy toward the South Asia.

India is in the midst of national elections where the opposition party of Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi is tipped to come out on top. Although Modi was previously refused a visa to the U.S. because of allegations he failed to stop deadly anti-Muslim riots while serving as a state chief minister, Washington is unlikely to let that hobble the relationship should he become prime minister.

A new U.S. government report Wednesday on intellectual property protection, however, added another wrinkle to efforts to iron out bilateral tensions. The U.S. Trade Representative singled out China and India among 10 nations on a so-called "priority watch list" for what it described as serious problems with online piracy and trade in counterfeit goods.

Innovators also face "serious challenges" in securing and enforcing patents for pharmaceuticals, agro-chemicals and green technology, the report said.

Indian officials take umbrage at what they see as such unilateral labeling by the U.S., although it entails no punishment. U.S. officials also stressed they wanted to hash out the issues with India after its new administration takes office.

As well as looking to expand trade and defense cooperation, Biswal spoke of how a capable Indian security presence is a stabilizing force in South Asia. She also said the U.S. was drawing on Indian know-how to help advance its global development agenda.

Elsewhere in the region, Biswal was asked about the political standoff in Bangladesh, where January elections were boycotted by the opposition.

The diplomat said there's been little progress to date, but the U.S. would stay engaged to help try and move things forward. She cautioned that Bangladesh's economic and development gains of recent years "are fragile and unstable if it doesn't have political stability."

On Nepal, Biswal noted growing pressure on Tibetan refugees there, and said it was a high U.S. priority to ensure that those refugees' rights are respected and that they are able to transit to India.

Thousands of Tibetans refugees live in Nepal, and others travel there on their way to India where Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama lives in exile. China has repeatedly pressured Nepal's government over the refugees staging anti-Chinese protests.