President Obama’s India Trip: More Substance NeededOp-Ed
In India West:
On Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, I laid flowers at the base of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue outside the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C. In having that honor, I was reminded of the deep connections between the United States and India. The sight of Gandhi standing in the heart of America’s capital reminds me that the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, was inspired by the father of modern India.
These ties between the two nations stretch from our long struggles for democracy and freedom, to the trade between our businesses, to the exchange of information and cooperation between the two nations’ defense and intelligence agencies. I care deeply about this relationship. I have worked on strengthening U.S.-India ties for more than 20 years in the U.S. Congress, and I will continue promoting this relationship, as I chair the Foreign Affairs Committee.
President Obama’s visit to India last week was a major happening in our bilateral partnership, and it was encouraging to see the closeness of this critical relationship on display with the president accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Republic Day Parade. I remember in a meeting with former Prime Minister Singh, he told me that the progress we’ve made in the relationship is “irreversible.” I agreed. But we must never take the U.S.-India relationship for granted.
As former co-chair of the India Caucus, we built the caucus from a handful of members to over 160, the largest bipartisan caucus in the Congress. There should be no party divide on U.S-India relations. I can assure India’s government that it does not matter which political party occupies the White House or controls Congress. In fact, I extended an invitation to candidate Narendra Modi to visit the U.S. during his campaign. The U.S.-India relationship is of utmost importance to all of us. I hope President Obama will, in the future, follow the example of a former Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who understood the value of bipartisanship in foreign relations. President Clinton brought both Democrats and Republicans, including myself, on his historic trip to India in 2000.
Did President Obama achieve as much as we hoped from his India visit? In the crucial areas of trade, nuclear energy, and defense, much was made of the agreements signed.
Let’s start with trade. The president announced a commercial dialogue to hold the U.S. and Indian bureaucracies to account. That’s a good thing. But the Administration needs to promote reforms that will help India improve its ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, where it currently sits 142 out of 189 countries. Reducing the number of days to start a business and improving protections for minority investors would both be a good start. The Administration should also use the dialogue to promote reforms that would increase U.S. trade with India, in part by increasing intellectual property protection and simplifying tax and bureaucratic hurdles.
India is expected to become the world’s fastest-growing major economy next year, according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest projections. And despite President Obama’s triumphant rhetoric, we cannot be satisfied with only $61.4 billion in trade between the United States and India, compared with the $537.9 billion in goods trade we have with China.
These lopsided numbers signify a missed opportunity for millions of people living in India and America who are itching to start businesses, invent products, and better themselves and their families. This would be easier if only our governments would cut through this unnecessary red tape, which represses India’s private sector and stifles bilateral trade.
President Obama’s second claimed success concerns nuclear energy. During his trip, the U.S. and India announced an agreement regarding liability protections for American companies wanting to be part of India’s nuclear industry. The U.S. should be a nuclear partner with India, not Russia. Differences on this issue have blocked progress on the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, which I championed in Congress and advanced through the House in 2006.
Despite repeated commitments, India has not adopted measures needed to shield U.S. companies from unlimited liability in case of a nuclear accident. Unfortunately, the announced agreement on this subject changes little and simply states that India’s existing laws will suffice. Without adequate protection against open-ended liability, U.S. companies cannot engage in this kind of business in India.
More encouraging, the U.S. and India renewed the 10-year Defense Framework Agreement, and agreed to pursue joint development and production projects. The Obama Administration deserves credit for not letting this lapse. It is my hope and expectation that the new framework will improve our bilateral defense partnership through joint military exercises, more extensive intelligence-sharing and maritime security efforts. This is critical because the U.S. and India have long faced a common threat from Islamist radicals. While our cooperation through the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism has enabled greater information sharing and training material, more should still be done. Prior to the visit, I encouraged the president to press for an increase in high-level visits by each country’s intelligence and security agencies. There is still a need for greater cooperation.
The U.S.-India relationship has made great strides over the past two decades, and we in the United States Congress will continue to work with both the Obama Administration and the Indian Government to ensure our strategic partnership deepens. I hope President Obama can revive a bipartisan approach to this crucial relationship.
(Rep. Ed Royce is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.)