By Sachin Chaturvedi
“Extraordinary times require even closer cooperation between friends. Thank you, India and the Indian people for the decision on HCQ. Will not be forgotten!” was the tweet from the US President Mr Trump, when India agreed to allow exports of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to the US which is being seen as a possible cure for COVID-19.
This reminded of the great personal bonding that the two leaders demonstrated at the “Howdy Modi” in Houston last September. It was a great opportunity for President Trump when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi publically declared, “abkibaar Trump Sarkar” (This time Trump again) and “Namaste Trump” events in Ahmedabad and New Delhi in February this year.
Since Modi has come to power special attention has been paid to the US-India relations. With External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar the strategic dimension of this partnership has unfolded in several different ways. What started as a “two-plus-two” dialogue in New Delhi in 2018, led to the conclusion of Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which was on the negotiating table for more than a decade. This gave India access to advanced communication technology used in US defence equipment and allows real-time information sharing between the two countries’ militaries. The agreement had been under negotiation for nearly a decade.
During his hectic presentations at five prominent think-tanks in the US, Dr Jaishankar widened the perspective of bilateral engagement to cover the Indo-Pacific context and also in the context of new choices at multilateral fora, where a closer India-US partnership was suggested to play an effective role in global governance. The bilateral partnership was evident once again at the recently held G-20 virtual meet, when both the countries, in their own way, called for effective role of multilateral institutions (read WHO).
There is little doubt that in a transactional world choices for sectoral policy domains like trade and other sectors are leveraged for balancing the wider objectives. While taking this decision of exports of HCQ, India overlooked the latter part of the statement President Trump made, which implied that India has taken advantages on trade and should deliver on this the demand of the US, which was very much in line with the on-going demand from the US admin to do away with special and differential treatment for India at the WTO. It was as a part of this approach that the US Administration decided to withdraw the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) for Indian exports.
There is one additional point here that Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) would have to take up with the line Ministries at the appropriate platform and that would be to stop disrupting exports for meeting domestic demand. Both the ministries of Agriculture and Health are known to push these kinds of demands. We need to realise that partner countries also plan their policies, based on the reliability of imports. As we are discussing HCQ, a consignment of 28 lakh tablets of paracetamol is stuck at the ports for the UK and a couple of other countries. This is the result of a DGFT order of as late as 3 March, when export restrictions for several APIs were announced.
(The author is Director General, RIS. Views are personal.)