Biden accords priority for economic issues in talks

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden during a meeting at 7 RCR in New Delhi on Tuesday.  

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington and attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York during a week-long visit towards the end of September. The indications came from a 75-minute meeting between Dr. Singh and visiting U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, here on Tuesday.

While Mr. Biden went through the checklist of economic issues that the U.S. wants India to resolve, Dr. Singh highlighted the prospects of a tighter visa regime for Indian software professionals and the need for technological and trading partnerships in the area of shale gas.

The two leaders also spent time on regional issues, especially the U.S. initiatives being taken to stabilise Afghanistan before the withdrawal by the bulk of western forces from the country. The situation in Syria and Iran’s nuclear file also came up for discussion, said government sources.

With U.S. politicians having come under pressure from American companies which have even formalised their reservations against India’s trade practices under the “Alliance for Fair Trade with India,” economics dominated discussions on bilateral issues.

Mr. Biden also had a meeting with Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, who called on him. Hosting a banquet in the evening, Mr. Ansari, a former career diplomat, in his own way counselled patience. “Wishing to be friends, it is said, is quick work but friendship is a slow ripening fruit that requires diligent tending,” he said while pointing out that India would like to “cherish, as you do, the right to disagree without losing sight of our endeavour for the common good.”

The U.S. intention is to have several economic agreements in place by the time Dr. Singh meets Mr. Obama. In fact Mr. Biden’s visit was announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when he came here for the Strategic Dialogue last month and realised that several initiatives of economic nature have been pending at the official level for a long time and needed high level political push to get them sorted out.

Nuclear plant in Gujarat

While the U.S. managed to get its way on higher foreign direct investment limits in several sectors as well as catalysed an unprecedented withdrawal of a policy (on Preferential Market Access) , the biggest financial attraction for Washington — Westinghouse’s plans to build civil nuclear reactors in Gujarat — still remains to be sorted out despite the September-end deadline agreed upon by both sides. In particular both sides have some distance to cover on the maximum ceiling that an equipment supplier will bear in case of an accident in the nuclear power plant.

The U.S. expressed its willingness to partner India in shale gas technology, which is a much different proposition as compared to other hydrocarbons — right from the geological survey stage to final exploration. The U.S. also gave assurances on India being a candidate for shale gas exports although both countries have not signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Under the U.S. laws a non-FTA country has to be specially allowed by its Department of Energy to import shale gas whose production in the U.S. has risen 100 times in the last 10 years and likely to reach 5 million barrels per day by 2020.

With the military’s Pacific Command chief accompanying him, discussions also touched joint Indo-U.S. military exercises — 60 at the last count in about nine years — and a combined shot at developing military hardware, essentially aimed at ensuring technology transfer, through the Defence Technology Initiative.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 3:07:20 PM |

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