India-US Relations: Future Trajectory
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Issue Vol 24.4 Oct-Dec2009 | Date : 16 Dec , 2011

On WTO, the signs of some flexibility from the Indian side with the change of ministers might be welcomed by the US, but any perceived concessions on agriculture by India could create serious political problems for the government domestically. On Climate Change, India is trying to ward off increasing pressure from the US and the EU by agreeing to external scrutiny and more frequently reporting on voluntary, but not legally binding, emission cuts, but this may not provide the breakthrough needed for an agreement between industrialized and developing countries.

At Copenhagen, the Obama Administration may need concrete commitments by India on emission ceilings for improving the chances of its own environmental legislation – considered inadequate by its western partners who are looking for US leadership on the issue – through the Congress, but India’s flexibility is limited as it cannot afford to permanently sacrifice its development objectives. Any bullying of India by the US Congress on this issue will create wrinkles in the bilateral relationship. Already the wires are being crossed between India and the US in Climate Change negotiations because of India’s new inclination to make some concessions and political inability to do so transparently.

The challenge before India is to leverage US strengths to its advantage, give an increasing stake to the US in India, but protect Indias vital interests and independence of action.

Along with these mixed perspectives on Indo–US ties in the future, the Obama Administration’s efforts to assure India that it intends building on the existing relationship and not downgrading it should be noted. Clinton was late in visiting India, but tried to compensate for it by omitting Pakistan from her itinerary. The invitation to Prime Minister Singh to visit Washington in November – the first state visit the US President shall host – is part of the exercise to signal continued high interest in India, and pander to its ego.

A new bilateral dialogue architecture has been set up between the US and India, with annual meetings at the level of Foreign Ministers. The CEO’s Forum will be expanded to widen the engagement between entrepreneurs on both sides. There is serious intent to expand educational cooperation with private sector participation, science and technology collaboration in innovative technologies, and cooperation in agriculture, health, energy, clean technologies, etc. These soft areas of Indo–US cooperation hold good promise, especially as US corporations recognize India’s human and technological potential.

There is no other country that has such wide sectoral interests in India as the US. With the Left no longer in a position to obstruct the economic reform agenda of the UPA and keep it under pressure on its perceived pro-US policies, the new UPA government has freer hands. However, with the global economic downturn and the impact of the recession on economic activity in general, whether exports or investment, and the revival of protectionism as governments try to protect jobs at home, the overall environment has become less favorable for deeper economic reforms.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kanwal Sibal

is the former Indian Foreign Secretary. He was India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia.

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