United States Vice-President Joe Biden, who landed here on Monday for talks with the Indian leadership, is likely to find the going more conducive as India-U.S. relations have entered a happier phase since last month, when Secretary of State John Kerry was here to create openings for the American industry.
Mr. Kerry, during the Strategic Dialogue with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, had found the Indians unwilling or unprepared to effect changes in several fields.
Review of progress
It was later decided to have Mr. Biden conduct a review of commitments made during Mr. Kerry’s visit and achieve greater finality before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in September.
Since last month, India has largely met the U.S.’ wishlist for higher foreign direct investment in many sectors and agreed to work towards kick-starting an ambitious U.S. investment proposal in the civil nuclear sector by September this year.
The progress on the policy side was helped along by trips to the U.S. made by India’s leading economic managers — Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
Encouraged by the Indian response, the U.S. has agreed to hold a meeting of the Trade Policy Forum to tie the loose ends in many areas, including intellectual property rights and non-trade barriers such as phytosanitary norms.
Disappointingly for India, Washington remains unmoved by its pleas to amend its new immigration laws that seek to impose higher visa fees on Indian software professionals seeking to work in the U.S. for a short term.
The U.S. argues that the proposed law will nearly triple the number of H-1B visas for skilled workers. India disagrees and maintains that the measure constituted a non-trade barrier. Indians might well benefit in the long run, concede Indian officials, but hold that commercial interests would be badly hit by the tweaking of immigration laws.
Civil nuclear energy is another area in which the two sides continue to face difficulties even though it had been agreed, during Mr. Kerry’s visit, that a pre-commercial agreement would be ready for Westinghouse’s project for civil nuclear plants in Gujarat.
Mr. Kerry is accompanied by new Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and U.S. military’s Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III..
India’s application for import of shale gas has been moved to number three on the U.S.’ list and New Delhi is looking for clarity regarding the opening of the upcoming Cove Point Terminal in Maryland for non — Free Trade Agreement signatories.
In defence, both sides will look at a $7-billion opportunity for the U.S. arms industry in securing multirole helicopters for the Indian Navy. They will look at tying up loose ends in deals that are in the pipeline, including add-on orders for transport planes. They would also touch on the progress made so far in the Defence Trade Initiative, which is aimed at relaxing U.S. laws to allow greater joint R&D efforts on defence products.
Discussions on Afghanistan, Syria and Iran will be prominent items for discussion under the ‘regional issues’ rubric. Mr. Biden will hear India’s views on the leadership change in Iran — an issue of extreme interest to the U.S. Afghanistan will be the big-ticket item from the Indian perspective as New Delhi tries to understand the U.S.’ game plan for the region.