The US President continues to spring surprises, even as world tries to size up the largest global political and economic power. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement last month President Trump certainly created a global flutter. As a result, the G20 nations issued a joint statement last week, hoping against hope, that the US might reconsider its withdrawal decision. Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the POTUS, who had met with former US Vice President Al Gore, just before the pull back, well might spring a surprise by convincing her father.
While every new Presidency in America has brought uncertainty to the Indo US relations, President Trump is totally another dimension. His being an outsider to the political establishment only adds to this unknown. His meetings with most Heads of States in the past have ended very quickly, with at least one mishap to write home about. The only exception has been the Chinese President Xi Jinping, given Trump’s perception that China might help in limiting North Korea. The tangibles, however, are still unknown.
The question then is where does India stand in the American President’s scheme of things? Should India push for a strategic relationship? Or should the Prime Minister’s team focus on immediate issues that are irritants to promoting bilateral trade?
The US President has given mixed statements about India – while in March he welcomed a future visit of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, he lashed out at India and China for signing the Paris Agreement in exchange for billions and billions of “US Dollars”. In an attempt to revive jobs in the US he has squeezed H1-B visas and jawboned several Indian companies to commit to creating jobs for Americans.
Given that India has a huge pool of skilled IT professionals, the general perception is that Indians have taken away American jobs. A CII Report titled “Indian Roots, American Soil”, that surveyed only 100 Indian companies based in the US has revealed that the situation on the ground is quite to the contrary. These 100 companies had together created more than 91,000 jobs in America and invested a significant USD 15.3 billion by 2015. Being the 8th fastest growing source of FDI for USA, at least 84.5% of the companies had planned additional investments in the near future. Yet another survey has revealed that Indian companies have contributed more than USD 20 billion to the US exchequer by way of taxes. Indian workers have also contributed over USD 7 billion to the US Social Security Schemes.
But in the current scenario, Indian companies having business interests in the USA, are feeling unsettled about their future. Given the unpredictability of several decisions that President Trump has taken in the past, it is difficult to envisage the outcome of discussions between the two Heads of State. Yet, industry players on both sides are hoping for some clarity on uncertainties prevailing since President Trump took office. Apart from the IT companies hoping for a resolution of the visa issues, other industries, especially pharmaceutical companies, are hoping for market access challenges to be resolved.
While the Prime Minister is expected to raise these issues, there is all likelihood that they might not come up for discussion. Amongst the observers of Indo US relations, one faction fears that on June 25, “Make in India” and “America First” might end up colliding with each other, rather than collaborating. And, another faction believes that the two deal makers might make progress in giving a push to bilateral relations. In any case the proponents of closer India US ties, do not see the beginnings of an alliance in the upcoming Summit.
The current scenario offers several opportunities for building a longer term relationship, even in the Trump regime. I believe that with a “will” not only can these be leveraged, but also made into a mega opportunity. For example, the “Make in India” and “Made in Germany”, a German promoted program, have not come in each other’s way but led to great cooperation amongst the two countries. From my interactions with experts at various international forums, my belief is that for now it might be best to build on short term transactional deals rather than try to agree on long term issues.
To that extent, the Prime Minister’s meeting with CEOs while in US augurs well. It might be a good idea to pursue transfer of technologies in areas such as green and clean energy, cyber security etc. The recent reconfirmation of India being a major defence partner for the US, provides a positive background to the upcoming Summit. The 10 year Defence Framework, that was signed in January 2015, continues to be pursued, with work on export control regulations relaxations progressing well. The Export Administration Regulations for transfers of particular items to India has also been recently amended.
Perhaps Trump currently does not view India as being of much significance in the global dynamics, but surely India can be of bilateral significance to America. As Ashley Tellis, an international expert on US Security and Foreign Policy recently highlighted “Trump, unlike his predecessors seems capable of undertaking sharp course reversals. Modi has an opportunity to take the measure of the man, articulate India’s interests and describe the opportunities those interests provide for the US. I don’t think PM Modi can change Trump’s worldview. But he can help Trump to think of India as an opportunity rather than as a problem.”
In an era of rebalancing of powers in Asia, there is no doubt that India as a leading economic power, not bogged down by America’s pressures, will only further the interests of that nation. While USA tries to emerge from its political and economic challenges and reestablish itself in the Eastern part of the world, a strong India will only make a dependable partner for the USA. Similarly, for India, the USA could be a reliable friend as it consolidates its position in its part of the world. It is hoped that these win-win possibilities will be communicated to the US President and the two sides will begin discussions on a mutually beneficial partnership.
The “rapport” that Prime Minister Modi strikes up with President Trump in the upcoming Summit, will be a major factor determining how the strategic relationship between our nations develops. However, as in the past, it will continue to be only one of the factors – there are several other factors that strongly impact the Indo US relations. For example, the legislature, the corporate sector and a strong Indian diaspora based in the US – many of whom have supported Trump all the way.
In this emerging scenario, the questions, that only time can answer, are whether the President of US will continue to view India as a “stealer” of American jobs or will he change his viewpoint to see India as a collaborator? When the two “deal makers” meet on June 25, will the two largest democracies in the world be able to find common ground for future growth? Whatever be the outcomes of this Summit, will decide the future of the Indo US relationship and perhaps also India’s relationship with several other countries around the world.