Interview

India looks forward to upping ties with US in 5 areas: Envoy

Healthcare, pharma, digital space & energy sectors figure on wish list

Tribune News Service

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 18

India looks forward to closely working with the new US administration and other stakeholders around five immediate baskets of cooperation, India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu told The Tribune in an exclusive interview.

Speaking after the February 18 Quad summit, Sandhu outlined cooperation in healthcare and pharma as the first item on the wish list. This also includes ensuring affordable medicines and vaccines.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s ambassador to US

‘Austin’s visit to boost defence partnership’

The visit of US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to India will enable the two sides to review ongoing cooperation and provide new momentum to our defence ties.

Like Covid cooperation, the second area — digital space; information and communication sectors — was also discussed in the Quad under the rubric of emerging technologies. The third is the energy sector, including LNG, renewable and solar, that will help in the fight against climate change. Equally important are advanced partnerships in education and knowledge partnership; and cooperation in strategic and defence areas, including in the Indo-Pacific.

“We look forward to building on the momentum to strengthen our existing partnerships across diverse sectors,” he said.

He said industries in both countries were working together to chart out reliable supply chains in next-generation defence technology and to undertake joint R&D, manufacturing, innovation and experimenting in new domains. Both sides can offer a lot to each other in critical and emerging technologies such as AI, big data analytics, robotics, quantum computing, block chain and Internet of things.

“In recent years, we have cemented traditional areas of cooperation, while simultaneously exploring new horizons. Today, there is no area of human activity that the partnership does not touch — from nanotechnology to space and Indo-Pacific to Covid vaccine manufacturing and delivery,” he observed.

“The visit of US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to India will enable the two sides to review ongoing cooperation and provide new momentum to our defence ties,” he said.

India remained committed to the bilateral trade target of $500 billion and hopes to re-engage with the US on trade and tariff issues. “In coming days, once senior officials of the Biden administration take their positions, intensive discussions can be expected on trade issues,” he added.

Sandhu was hopeful that the brakes on immigration and easier work visas would also be revisited by the new administration. “We remain engaged on issues related to movement of Indian professionals, who bring in value to the US economy,” he said.

There is a strong sense of commitment and determination among the political leadership of both India and the US to take the bilateral strategic partnership to the next level. The Ambassador, however, did not take questions on the farmers’ agitation and allegations in New Delhi about the increased activity of US-based Khalistanis.

Interview

Q: Please tell us about the recent Quad Summit. What are the major takeaways?

A: The virtual Quad Leader’s Summit on February 18 captured the vision of the four leaders for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific as well as layout practical areas of cooperation. The Quad countries share a lot in common as political democracies, market economies and pluralistic societies.

This was the first Summit at the Leaders’ level involving four countries: India, U.S., Japan & Australia, and assumes particular significance. These have been important conversations and reflect the importance of like-minded countries coming together during unprecedented times such as these, to fight common global challenges.

There are some important areas of cooperation under focus such as Covid vaccine manufacturing and delivery; critical and emerging technologies; climate change. It has been decided to set up separate working groups of experts and officials in these three areas. These will be continuing and regular conversations. As noted by Prime Minister Modi at the Summit, the agenda for cooperation makes the Quad a “force for global good”.

I would like to elaborate on the Quad vaccine partnership. The Quad initiative will utilize India’s well-known capabilities in manufacturing safe, effective, and affordable vaccines by adding new capacities for manufacturing in India. Development financing institutions of partner countries like the US and Japan would finance these efforts. Australia will assist with its logistics capability. Vaccines ‘Made in India’ would be made available for global benefit. These will be undertaken in close coordination with multilateral initiatives such as WHO, COVAX, GAVI. Quad’s collaborative initiative will speed up the global vaccination efforts, and India will be an active partner in these.

Q. Could you give a broad-brush picture of the Biden administration’s approach towards India?

A: The India-US bilateral partnership has been on an upward trajectory, the result of strong bipartisan support in the US and India, our shared values, and our strong people to people ties. In recent years, we have cemented traditional areas of cooperation, while simultaneously exploring new horizons. Today, there is no area of human activity that the partnership does not touch – from nanotechnology to space, from the Indo-Pacific to Covid vaccine manufacturing and delivery.

There is a strong sense of commitment and determination among the political leadership of both India and the US to take the bilateral strategic partnership to the next level. There have been several high-level conversations between the two sides since President Biden’s inauguration.

PM Modi and President Biden spoke in early February, their second call after President Biden’s election. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh, and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval have spoken to their U.S. counterparts. These initial interactions have been forward-looking, where our shared priorities such as the Covid-19 pandemic, energy and climate change, defence and security, and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region were discussed.

India looks forward to closely working with the new Administration and other stakeholders around five immediate baskets of cooperation: first, given the pandemic, cooperation in healthcare and pharma and Covid-19 management including affordable medicines and vaccines; second, the digital space; information and communication sectors; third, the energy sector, including LNG, renewables, solar that will allow us to combat climate change; fourth, the education and knowledge partnership; and finally, our cooperation in strategic and defence areas, including in the Indo-Pacific. We look forward to building on the momentum to strengthen our existing partnerships across diverse sectors.

Q. Trade seems to be back on the agenda. You had tried for a mini trade deal with the Trump Administration but it didn’t work out. What were the sticking points? After top trade officials got in touch, what kind of trade deal are both sides looking at in keeping with their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership? Is the restoration of GSP on the table?

A: We have a robust bilateral economic partnership that has overseen a tremendous growth in trade over the last two decades registering over $150 billion in trade and nearly $63 billion in two-way investment. The deep-rooted nature of our bilateral relationship is also evidenced by the presence of over 2,000 US Companies in India including every major Fortune 500 company; and presence of over 200 Indian companies in the U.S. that have created over 125,000 jobs in the United States across all states. Hence, there was a lot of excitement and interest in deepening these linkages.

At the same time, there is work to be done in realising the full potential of our economic cooperation, leveraging our mutual complementarities. We remain committed to the ambitious target of $ 500 billion in bilateral trade. Our discussions in bilateral mechanisms such as the India-U.S. Commercial Dialogue, CEO Forum, the Trade Policy Forum can help advance these common objectives. Both the governments and the private sectors are steadfast in their commitment to work together and achieving innovative breakthroughs that can accelerate the partnership in this area. In coming days, once senior officials of Biden Administration take their positions, intensive discussions can be expected on trade issues.

Q. On the defence side, what kind of relationship is India looking for? Are there some pointers in the direction of tailoring Indian requirements for US defence platforms with PM Modi’s Make-in-India and Atmanirbhar Bharat approach?

A: The defence and strategic ties continue to grow from strength to strength. If you look at the trajectory of cooperation in this particular sphere, there have been several important milestones, including India’s designation as a ‘Major Defense Partner’ and accordance of Strategic Trade Authorization-1 Status by the U.S.; signing of LEMOA, COMCASA, Industrial Security Annex and BECA foundational agreements. The defence exercises in both bilateral and plurilateral formats have become more frequent and have expanded in their scope. The recently concluded Exercise Yudh Abhyas was a tremendous success. U.S. was a major participant in the AERO India 2021 held last month.

We have also been working together for co-production and co-development of defence equipment, under the framework of the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative. Industries in both India and U.S. are working together to chart-out reliable supply chains in next-gen defence technology, and to undertake joint R&D, manufacturing, innovation, and experimenting in new domains. The upcoming visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Austin to India later this month would enable the two sides to review ongoing cooperation and provide new momentum to our defence ties.

Q. Sovereign and pension funds from other parts of the world have shown interest in India’s National Infrastructure Investment Pipeline. How do you see the response from US investors and financiers?

A: Several US investors and pension funds have shown interest in investing in India in infrastructure and other sectors, and we welcome it. Some of the key institutional investors from US had participated in the Virtual Global Investor Roundtable that was chaired by PM Modi in November 2020. We continue to engage with these institutional investors and pension funds in the U.S. to facilitate their investment plans for projects under the National Infrastructure Pipeline and in other sectors. As we forge ahead the economic recovery path, we will continue to remain focused on encouraging U.S. investors to invest in India.

Q. After difficulties on immigration issues, do you see a restoration of immigration, student and gig visas for Indians due to the new Bill and other reforms? What qualifications would be welcome in the US for prospective immigrants?

A: The contribution of over four million-strong Indian diaspora in all fields, including science, engineering, research, medicine, academia, business, entrepreneurship and governance in the US has been widely acknowledged and appreciated. You would have seen the comment made by President Biden himself recently recognising the contribution of the Indian American community to the US society and economy. The Indian American community has also been on the frontlines of America’s pandemic response from health services to information technology and financial services. People-to-people ties are at the heart of India-U.S. relations. There is strong complementarity between India’s talent pool and the capital as well as expertise of the US. We remain engaged with the U.S. administration and other stakeholders, on issues related to movement of Indian professionals, who bring in value to the US economy. We are confident that this talent will continue to be welcomed in the US.

Q. Could you tell us about the emerging areas of Indo-US cooperation such as AI, 5G and Industry 4.0?

A: The salience and possibilities of digital partnership have only increased with the pandemic. Along with the US, India is a founding member of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence. As societies that respect innovation and leveraging technologies for the benefit of the people, India and the US can offer a lot to each other in critical and emerging technologies such as AI, big data analytics, robotics, quantum computing, block-chain, Internet of Things. The India-US Science and Technology Forum, a binational organization, has been an important platform for advancing collaboration in these critical areas.

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