QUAD’s first virtual summit has sent ripples across the world. It has not only signaled a new change in the global diplomacy, it has also shifted the axis of global geo-politics from North Atlantic to Indo-Pacific. Leaders of India, the US, Australia and Japan have promised to work a free Indo Pacific region and strengthening democratic norms and taken new initiatives on Covid-19 vaccination. The summit has opened a new chapter in Indo-US relations beyond its present position. Financial Express Online reached out to Rajesh Mehta who is one of the leading voices on US-India relations. He works extensively on Market Entry, Innovation & Public Policy and his articles on various publications in India & the US have been read by policymakers experts in both countries. Excerpts
What are your impressions about the US-India relationship to develop trade and business?
Under Biden and Harris’s presidency, the US-India relations will be the most defining partnership of the 21st century. The alliance is shifting from security-based to one which is founded upon trust, talent, and technology. The agreement now involves people-to-people-centric approaches.
The US presidential poll saw a record turnout of 66.9%, the highest since 1900. For the first time, a woman, of Black and Indian American origin, is elected as the vice president of the United States. The Indian Americans also played a key role in the success of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
It appears that India – US trade relationship will be deepened. There will be stronger ties on defense and trade, sustainable and clean energy. Biden is also committed to working on immigration reform by extending H – 1B visas.
However, the GSP, dairy products import and data privacy are emerging concerns between the two countries that must be resolved amicably. Recent Indian emphasis on import substitution through a ‘Make in India’ campaign has epitomized the challenges facing the bilateral trade relationship. Thus, opening markets and reducing trade barriers is fundamental to any trade agenda. A mini-trade deal must be signed sooner. Also, the US must assign an ambassador to India.
The multilateral approach, consequently, will allow both the US and India to work together and implement economically beneficial projects as a safe and trustworthy alternative to China’s “debt trap” diplomacy.
What is your impression of the quad summit?
It was the first-ever leader-level summit of the Quad where the four leader countries met virtually to strengthen cooperation for an inclusive developed region. Support for ASEAN’s unity and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific was reaffirmed. Addressing the urgency to react to the economic and health consequences of COVID-19, the Quad has pledged to enhance safe, affordable, and equitable access to vaccines for the Indo-Pacific. This will now corroborate multilateralism as they unite with the World Health Organization and COVAX.
Three working groups, namely, for effective vaccine distribution, critical and emerging technologies, and the climate will be established to leverage resilient transition. The Quad also consented to reduce the dependency on China for real earth materials and shift the supply chain networks to more economical and stable countries. However, the Quad instead of restricting its actions to China should focus on evolving centrally with India and the US being the prime players. Besides, India should progress together protecting itself and without disturbing its relation with other countries such as Russia.
In times to come, global cooperation will be seen to realize healthy, diverse, and accessible upliftment. To this, the Quad will also hold an in-person leader-level summit at the end of 2021.
How can the Indo-US cooperate on the climate agenda?
With Joe Biden coming to power, climate activism is bound to be the key area of interest. Even before the election, I have conveyed it through my past articles of how Biden’s administration will be a sigh of relief for the sabotaged climate field left behind by Donald Trump. The reintroduction of the US in international climate forums is good news for India.
In India, the cost of solar energy is now cheaper than coal. The electric automobile sector is also flourishing at an increasing pace. A look at the Climate Action Tracker suggests that India is ahead of its major emitter counterparts such as the US and China. However, it is near impossible to prepare an international response to the climate crisis without involving one of the largest carbon emitters.
India and the US must realize this and ease tensions by improving bilateral relations. Both countries have expressed the willingness to step up and tackle the crisis. Thus, collaboration with one foot in the developed world and the other in the developing Indo-US partnership can be climactic in navigating the current international terrain and getting more countries to hop on board the climate agenda.
How can India emerge as a global hub for a resilient supply chain?
With strong macroeconomic fundamentals, demographic dividend, ease of doing business, cheap labor costs, and enormous resource accesses, India has an exclusive chance to embark on global supply chains. India is being seen as the manufacturing hub as corporations diversify their production base from China to other stable countries. Atma Nirbhar Bharat, Production-Linked Incentive (PLI), India’s Look East policy are some of the key schemes which allow India to strengthen its importance as a regional power.
However, it appears that Indian value chains are bedeviled with inefficiencies such as high logistics costs, inefficient storage facilities, broken infrastructure which sink it below international standards.
For India to capture the US market, it must focus upon boosting technologies and digitalization, supporting labor, strengthening infrastructure and utilities, environmental laws, taxation, and business reforms. Indian government must work on removing structural bottlenecks and advance investment and trade promotion.
How Indian diaspora play an important role in building US-India relations?
Joe Biden naming 20 Indian Americans in his agency review teams elevates the Indian diaspora’s presence in the new incoming administration. Numbering at 32 million, India has one of the largest diasporas in the world. From technological innovation to healthcare to public policy, there is no technical field that has bypassed the influence of India’s diaspora. Technology giants such as Google and Microsoft, led by Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella illustrate the substantial role that the Indian diaspora plays in innovation in the US. Nearly a third of all Silicon Valley companies are owned by the Indian diaspora.
This intensity of the overseas community for national growth must be translated in the form of knowledge transfer, monetary investments, and heightened civic engagement. Communication channels like the Pravasi Rishta portal are crucial digital tools in establishing strong links between diaspora, MEA, and the Indian missions.
Increased Indian American emergence, consequently, implicates effects beyond local American policy in realizing the potential of the Indian economy and strengthening US-India relations as a result.