US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should use their meeting next week to resolve the differences on economic issues and come out with a policy framework to realise the full potential of the two countries, eminent US experts have said.
“Prime Minister Singh’s upcoming visit to Washington should be used by both sides as an opportunity to re-affirm these commonalities and put the economic relationship on a much more positive and accelerated trajectory,” said Charlene Barshefsky, the former US Trade Representative from 1997-2001.
In a keynote address on ‘US-India Economic Relations: A Reality Check’ hosted by eminent think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Barshefsky rued at the policies of both the countries, which now have become the issues for each other, and said this is a relationship that should be stronger and healthier and should be contributing to both countries’ economic growth more than it is today.
Despite impressive trends in the past decade, she said the trade and investment ties with India today is characterised more by unrealised potential than fulfilled opportunity.
“The economic relationship should be stronger and more robust than it is – by virtue of the size of our economies and populations, as well as the strength of our strategic relationship. Despite being on track to become the world’s 3rd largest economy, India is only America’s 13th largest trade partner,” she said.
The US currently trades more with the Netherlands, Taiwan, Korea, and Saudi Arabia than with India, she added.
Barshefsky said a number of specific recent Indian policies – and failures to lift trade barriers – have disrupted the trajectory of the economic relationship.
Collectively, the selective undermining of foreign-held intellectual property, restrictive procurement rules, and failure to ease market access restrictions across numerous sectors call into question India’s commitment to modernisation and will require a number of critical reforms, she said.
India has been selectively overriding intellectual property rights of multinational companies and adopting troubling approaches to IP, she alleged, adding that the Indian government has turned to “compulsory licenses” to overturn patent rights.
Also the potential of the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation accord has not been realised in light of India’s nuclear liability law that appears to be out of step with international standards and has deterred investment by many nuclear energy firms, she added.
India’s concerns with US immigration policy
At the same time, the US should recognise that India has concerns with US policy – concerns that must be addressed.
“First, the intractable immigration debate in the United States over illegal immigration risks jeopardising a key fundamental of growth: a legal immigration system that allows for the free movement of highly-skilled workers,” Barshefsky said.
“The United States should address India’s concerns over the equalisation of social security taxes paid by Indian workers under the H-1B program,” she said.
Diane Farrell, executive vice president of US-India Business Council, hoped the Prime Minister would raise the issue of immigration reform with Obama during his meeting.
“We are constantly talking to our counterparts in the US and Indian Government to talk about some of the policy decisions, which we believe are actually going to impede progress in India,” she said.
Indian policies towards American companies
Acknowledging that the American companies have concerns about the Indian policies, she pitched for long term presence in India – one of the largest markets in the world.
“You cannot ignore a population that is 50 per cent of which is under the age of 25. India really is the place. But it is not easy,” she said.
Linda Dempsey, vice president National Association of Manufacturers, said investors are pulling back from India because of the policies of the Indian Government.
Major sectors in steel, insurance and other infrastructure sectors lost investors, she said.
She attributed this to bad policies including the manufacturing policies, which she alleged are discriminatory and against the international norms. “If India is allowed to continue these policies, others will surely follow with devastating results for companies here,” she claimed.
Raymond Vickery, senior director at Albright Stonebridge, said the United States and India need each other. “If these two strong democracies can’t be friends who can,” he asked.
“On the present situation, granted that India has fallen into international economic regression in the face of 2014 national elections, this is deplorable but not an unknown phenomenon,” Vickery said.
Vickery alleged that the US India Trade Policy Forum has not met in three years.
“The last time it was to meet was in January 2012. The Indian side wanted to bring up some unpleasant issues, such as immigration, outsourcing, unpleasant from the US political perspective. And what happened, it was postponed again. It still hasn’t met,” he said, blaming the US Trade Representatives for this.
Referring to the recent efforts led by National Association of Manufacturers to create a coalition against New Delhi in which some 170 members of the Congress and 40 Senators have written letters against Indian policies, Vickery warned the American industry that India has never responded to ganging up efforts and it never will.
He called for making economic engagement equal to the political and strategic rhetoric.