India-U.S. launch dialogue on strategic trade, seek to tighten export controls

Officials indicate a softer line on India-Russia ties, focus on building trust during Modi Washington visit this month

June 07, 2023 06:30 pm | Updated 08:55 pm IST - New Delhi

Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatrameets U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and Under Secretary for Industry and Security Alan Estevez at the first meeting of the India-US Strategic Trade Dialogue in Washington

Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatrameets U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and Under Secretary for Industry and Security Alan Estevez at the first meeting of the India-US Strategic Trade Dialogue in Washington | Photo Credit: ANI

India and the U.S. pledged to streamline their export control regimes for critical technologies at the inaugural India-U.S. Strategic Trade Dialogue (IUSSTD), as senior delegations led by Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra and U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Under Secretary for Commerce Alan Estevez met in Washington on June 6.

The talks came just ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington when a number of high-technology partnerships, including a deal that will involve GE-414 jet engine sales to India, are on the cards. U.S. concerns over sharing technology that could reach adversaries like Russia have been highlighted in the past few months.

Meanwhile, in separate comments, senior U.S. officials indicated a softer line on India-Russia ties and said PM Modi’s visit would help build trust and confidence in the U.S.’s “most important bilateral relationship”.

Also read | A crucial six months for India-U.S. ties

“IUSSTD focused on ways in which both governments can facilitate the development and trade of technologies in critical domains such as semiconductors, space, telecom, quantum, AI, defence, bio-tech and others,” said a press release issued by the Indian Embassy on Wednesday. “Both sides reviewed the relevant bilateral export control regulations with the objective of building and diversifying resilient supply chains for these strategic technologies,” it said, adding that both sides agreed to share “best practices” on multilateral export control regimes, and enhance awareness among the industry about export control regimes.

In April this year, a senior U.S. Commerce Department official visited Delhi and had highlighted the importance of export controls as well as the need to scrutinise companies that may help Russia in “illicit procurement” as well as “backfilling technology” to use for the war in Ukraine in public comments. 

Although the U.S. had issued a number of statements immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 calling for India to reduce its military ties with Russia, forego Russian oil and vote alongside western countries at the UN, none of which New Delhi agreed to, it has in more recent months given up those demands. Ahead of his visit to Delhi next week, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. should be prepared to “meet” India and other countries not joining the sanctions, rather than “debate” them.

“The big thing the United States needs to do is not have a debate with each of these countries about Ukraine, but rather meet them where they are in terms of what they are trying to accomplish,” said Mr. Sullivan referring to India, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and other countries that have refused to join sanctions against Russia imposed by the U.S. and European Union over the war in Ukraine. “And that is to deliver for their citizens, to build infrastructure for clean energy transition, to deal with major debt challenges coming out of COVID,” he added, speaking to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. 

Mr. Sullivan said that in India’s case for example, the country hadn’t joined the sanctions but the U.S.-India partnership has “never been stronger” in terms of technology, defence cooperation and people-to-people ties. As The Hindu had reported earlier, Mr. Sullivan is due to visit Delhi on June 13-14 for talks with NSA Ajit Doval about the upcoming visit.

Also read | A new chapter in defence and tech

Speaking at the Hudson Institute, another senior U.S. official said Washington hopes that PM Modi’s visit would build on “trust and confidence” between both countries over a number of strategic and trade issues which was not present in the relationship earlier.

“My hope is that this visit basically consecrates the U.S.-India relationship as the most important bilateral relationship with the United States on the global stage, and that we effectively make it into sort of escape velocity,” said Kurt Campbell, Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs in the National Security Council on Tuesday.

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