Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump are “deal-makers” who are willing to break with past practice to accomplish things, a renowned expert on India and Asia has said. “The Trump administration wants export markets and India wants investments. Somewhere in there, there is a deal. These two leaders are deal-makers and they are both willing to break with past practice and past policy to accomplish things,” Senior Fellow for India with the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) Marshall Bouton told PTI in an interview. He also suggested the two leaders during their first meeting next week should focus on transforming bilateral economic relations.
Bouton, who is President Emeritus of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, described economic relations between the two nations as the “weakest” as compared to the political and security pillars of bilateral cooperation. Bouton had last month authored a comprehensive ASPI paper ‘The Trump Administration’s India Opportunity’, in which he called for the US administration to move decisively and engage Modi’s government to deepen cooperation and manage potential disputes.
Bouton said if Modi and Trump want to think big about US-India relations, they should think about transforming economic ties in the manner that strategic ties strengthened under the George Bush administration with the civil nuclear deal and through the climate agreement under Barack Obama. In his paper, Bouton, a nationally known expert on India and Asia, had noted that total US trade with India now exceeds 100 billion dollars. Although Indian exports increased rapidly over the last 15 years, Indian goods exports to the United States accounted for only 2.1 per cent of total US goods imports in 2016.
The total US goods trade deficit with India (USD 24 billion) in 2016 accounted for less than 5 per cent of the total US trade deficit. “I am sure there will be some articulation on the Indian side of concern about protectionism on the part of the US and pressure on India to reduce its trade surplus with the US. From the US side, (focus could be) on how to make the trade relationship more balanced,” he said.
Modi’s visit to the US also comes against the backdrop of concerns among Indian IT professionals and outsourcing firms over the H1-B visa regime amid the Trump administration’s focus to undertake immigration reform. Bouton however suggested that the H1 B visa issue may not rank high among the priority areas for the Modi-Trump meeting.
“H1-B is a very important issue. However, frankly in the big scheme of things that should be the focus of this meeting, it does not rank so highly. The best we can hope for is that the administration decides what stance it really will finally take on H1-B. It should proceed cautiously and do so in consultation with its key partners, most especially India, on the H1B issue,” he said.
He added that while the H1-B issue will come up in the bilateral talks between the leaders, “I dont think it is going to be a major issue. No one should expect a major move out of this meeting on the H1-B question,” said Bouton, who has previously served as Director for Policy Analysis for Near East, Africa and South Asia in the US Department of Defense and as Special Assistant to the US Ambassador to India.