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Updated: June 8, 2010 21:57 IST

“Positive announcements” expected on export controls before Obama visit

Narayan Lakshman
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Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. File photo: Narayan Lakshman
The Hindu Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. File photo: Narayan Lakshman

After many months of pressing its case with the Obama administration, the Government of India may finally hope to get some good news regarding export control restrictions imposed by the United States on sensitive, dual-use items of high-tech trade and on legitimate government institutions such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Addressing media here closely on the heels of the United States-India Strategic Dialogue, Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said, “I expect that there will be some positive announcements to be made before the President’s visit — hopefully well before [that].”

His comments also follow statements made by Nirupama Rao, India’s Foreign Secretary, at the close of the Strategic Dialogue, that an important element with regard to the ongoing U.S.-India partnerships in defence modernisation would be “progress on the easing of U.S. export control restrictions as they apply to India”. Ms. Rao had noted that this would not only be a logical outcome of the civil nuclear initiative, but would also be a catalyst for promoting trading and cooperation in high-technology, defence and the space sectors.

Two processes

By way of explaining the U.S. approach to this issue, Mr. Blake said there were two processes involved, firstly a wider review, on the part of the administration, of the overall export control regime; and secondly, an “India-specific review that also is under way… [which] will probably split off from the wider review”.

He also admitted that the U.S. export control regime was “in many cases outdated”, and in the case of India, the U.S. was taking “a particularly close look at the Entities List”. Mr. Blake noted that many entities had already come off the Entities List — a list of organisations with which U.S. companies cannot trade, or can only trade under restrictions — over the last few years, and “now there is a focus on entities like ISRO and the Defence Research and Development Organisation”.

India-specific export controls

Arguing that significant progress had been made with India-specific export controls, Mr. Blake said, “We have made a great deal of progress over the last six years or so in reducing the export controls that apply to India. Now less than one half of one per cent of all exports requires any sort of license at all — and most of those are presumed to be approved.”

He added that there was a reciprocal process under way which also sought to obtain “the necessary assurances from the Indians about the strength of their own export control regime that would enable us to relax our restrictions”. Mr. Blake added that he anticipated there was going to be “further good progress” on this matter and the U.S. and Indian sides had a “good exchange during the Strategic Dialogue”.

Touching upon the potential for cooperation in high-technology trade, he also noted, “We think there are enormous opportunities for American companies to do more and work more with their colleagues in the space area and also in the defence area. These are steps that would serve both of our countries.”

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