Indo-Us Bilateral Ties On An Even Keel

The withdrawal of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) benefits extended to India by the Trump Administration and the decision to increase tariffs on about twenty-eight products being imported from the US, within days of the second term of the Narendra Modi government have hogged the headlines. However, the two sides are on the same page so far as their “Stategic partnership” is concerned.  Just before the G20 Summit in Osaka Japan, The U.S. Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo will be visiting India from 25 to 27 June 2019.

This will be the first high level engagement with the US after the elections in India. During his visit, he will hold talks with the External Affairs Minister and call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other dignitaries on the Government of India. Secretary Pompeo’s visit will be an important opportunity for both sides to explore ways to further strengthen the India-U.S. Strategic Partnership, and continue the high-level engagement on matters of mutual interest including bilateral, regional, and global issues.

The US Secretary of State called Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to congratulate him on his appointment, a US state department statement said. “Secretary Pompeo underscored the strong US commitment to working closely with the new Indian Government to advance our strategic partnership,” the statement said.

Secretary Pompeo and the Indian External Affairs Minister also discussed shared U.S. and Indian objectives in safeguarding a free and open Indo-Pacific, US-India security cooperation, and the US-India economic partnership, the state department said.

The telephone call from Mr. Pompeo came days ahead of the US Secretary of State’s visit to New Delhi to lay the groundwork for a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka. It is being expected that Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump would jointly meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for an India-US-Japan trilateral to discuss the Indo-Pacific strategy.

India is of the view that the overall direction of the Indo-US bilateral relationship remains very positive. Highlighting the fact that bilateral trade had grown over the years to about $150 billion and any bottlenecks in trade ties should be ironed out to the satisfaction of both New Delhi and Washington. It should also be noted that the US has not officially informed India about any plans in relation to H1B visas (US professional visas to highly trained foreigners) IT professionals.

The Iran sanctions issue is likely to be taken up during the Trump-Modi bilateral, and India’s concerns on energy security would also be discussed during Mr. Pompeo’s New Delhi visit.

Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Jaishankar would also set the course for future engagements. Both governments are exploring the possibility of another meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi at the UN General Assembly in September this year, and Mr. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will head to Washington for the annual 2+2 summit around the same time. India also is expecting a US Presidential visit to New Delhi in the foreseeable future.                                                   

Regarding U.S. concerns about Chinese telecom company Huawei’s participation in the 5G roll-out in India; the Indian Government is of the opinion that since internal discussions on it are currently on, focusing on the economic and security aspects and these discussions usually do not conclude immediately. India will have to see which of the two components— security and economic— would be the major factor in deciding the case. India would take a concerned decision on the issue at the appropriate time.

Larger issues pertaining to data localization, cross-border e-commerce and intellectual property rights are also expected to be part of the negotiations. Both sides understand that the strong bilateral relationship has been built assiduously and certain momentary disruptions would not rock the cordial ties. The US Secretary of State’s visit immediately after the second Modi government took office, emphasises Washington’s special ties with India. The two largest democratic nations are “enduring global partners’ in the 21st century.

Script: Satyajit Mohanty, Ies, Senior Economic Analyst