Washington: A top American Senator has called for holding the next round of India-US Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi this year as against the scheduled venue of Washington, to show a good will gesture towards the new Narendra Modi-led government.
“The (India US Strategic) Dialogue (in New Delhi) would provide an early opportunity for the US Government to engage with the new Government in India,” Senator Mark Warner, told a Washington audience yesterday.
The Strategic Dialogue, which was launched by the previous Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is held every year alternatively in India and the United States.
Last year it was held in New Delhi, for which the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, travelled to India.
As such the Strategic Dialogue for this year is scheduled this year in Washington.
But Warner and many friends for India in the US have been arguing that this year it should be held in New Delhi.
“Since the new Indian government will just be getting started, holding the Dialogue in Delhi will be less disruptive to organizing meetings and will provide both sides the opportunity to meet and get to work early in the term on joint initiatives,” Warner said.
Before leaving for Central Asia, China and India, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, had said the US is open to the idea of holding this year’s Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi, but any decision would be held only in consultation with the new Indian Government.
In a major foreign policy speech on India-US Trade Relationship, Warner, who is co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, the only country-specific caucus in the United States Senate also called for establishing a public-private working group on infrastructure investment.
“In Gujarat, Mr Modi made infrastructure improvements a priority. He built thousands of kilometres of highways and improved the port facility.
For US firms, a large part of the investment opportunities for the next five years are likely to be in infrastructure,” he said.
He noted that some American firms that have previously invested in India have experienced difficulties with payment certainty and are shy to take the risks of being primary developers.
“A public-private group could be charged with finding a way to ensure payment security for American investment, pointing toward specific projects where American firms can and should bid, and focusing US Government assistance to help identify American firms to play a role in the infrastructure build out,” Warner said.
Warner also said, “The Delhi-Mumbai corridor is taking shape, and it is worth asking the Government of India to consider dedicating several commercial centres for US investment,” as he strongly pushed for restarting negotiations to achieve a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT).
“India and the US have meandered through several rounds of stop and start negotiations about how to proceed with BIT.
Announcing that both sides will sit down and negotiate a framework would boost confidence that a BIT is possible.
A BIT would provide important protections for investors, help unleash needed investment, and provide a level playing field for both countries,” Warner said.
Calling for re-launch of the Defence Policy Group, Warner said this high-level dialogue has fallen dormant for two years.
It previously provided a regularly scheduled series of meetings to advance defence initiatives that were in each country’s mutual interest and provided a platform to discuss more difficult issues, he noted.
Warner urged both India and the United States to announce a joint energy project.
“India’s power requirements currently outstrip available supply, and as the economy continues to grow, more power will be required,” he said.
“As the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr Modi oversaw the creation of over 900 Mega Watts of solar power capacity in the state, which is more than a third of the total solar capacity in the entire country.
US companies have off-the-shelf technologies that can provide assistance in India and create private sector jobs in the US,” he said.
“We already have a 2010 US-India agreement in place to collaborate on energy technology, which provides a framework to launch new projects, and given Mr Modi’s previous success, this would appear to be a great opportunity to work together,” the Senator said.
Urging the Modi Government and the Obama Administration to hold bilateral talks on Afghanistan, Warner said the US could benefit from fully involving the new Indian Government in a post-Afghanistan security conference.
“The security landscape in Afghanistan is of concern to both countries. For India, the concern is that a US withdrawal could leave a challenging security situation nearby that could spill into India.
The US could seek India’s consultation on high-level strategies, and the governments could explore areas for collaboration,” he said.
The Obama Administration, he said, should conduct a review of visa policies with an eye toward further opening of global entry and trusted traveller programs for frequent travellers, including business leaders and investors.
“A review of policies for high-skill employees would help ensure companies in both countries have access to talent.
This would help US companies and the American economy grow and innovate and encourage more joint research and cooperation between universities,” he said.