Indian, US business leaders ask Obama to name special envoy for business

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : US and Indian business leaders and policy experts want President Barack Obama to name a high-profile aide to work with New Delhi to define a common vision for economic interaction in the years ahead.

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Such an envoy should also prepare the ground for a productive visit to India by Obama, ideally during his expected trip to Asia later this year, the Joint Task Force of business leaders and experts said.

In a report titled “Charting New Frontiers: Enhancing India-US Cooperation in the Global Innovation Economy” released here Wednesday, the task force said the top-level leadership in both countries will be key in driving the US-India economic relationship forward.

The task force set up by the Pacific Council on International Policy and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) proposes an ambitious agenda for bilateral cooperation by capitalising on looming opportunities as India assumes a larger role in the global economy.

Co-chaired by Richard F. Celeste, former US Ambassador to India and Dr. Amit Mitra FICCI secretary-general, the report sets forth policy recommendations for strengthening the economic dimension of the bilateral relationship, particularly in the innovation economy sectors.

“India and US must have a Free Trade Agreement,” Mitra said. “If we do it with everyone else you will lose,” he said noting that India was set to sign such agreements with several countries including the European Union next year.

However, in view of differences over issues like US demand for lowering tariffs and India’s insistence on lowering agricultural subsidies, Mitra suggested setting up of a study group with a commitment from both sides to signing a broad-base free trade agreement by 2015.

The report itself suggests that policymakers in Washington and New Delhi should for now focus instead on two more attainable objectives: a trade arrangement sharply focused on strengthening the global innovation economy; and an accord facilitating and fostering the growing bilateral investment relationship.

Striking a balance between pragmatism and ambition, and mindful that much of India’s growth path will depend on continuing internal reforms, the report suggests that the two governments should undertake a comprehensive review of

the export controls that still inhibit bilateral trade in high technology goods and services and develop a joint plan for their maximum-possible reduction

Noting that complete implementation of the US-India nuclear accord is vital if New Delhi is to realise its plans for expanding nuclear energy production, the report says the Indian government will need to open its state-owned nuclear energy establishment to private-sector participation and commit to definite policies regarding foreign involvement and investment.

This should include the enactment of a civil nuclear liability law that would enable the full participation of American firms, it said. The US in turn should also continue championing India’s participation in international research efforts pertaining to the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

The task force also proposed that India and US conclude an investment treaty, take positive-sum action to expand the global talent pool, enhance science and technology cooperation, incorporate India into global governance structures, strengthen energy and environmental cooperation, launch the second green revolution, exploit synergies in the pharmaceutical sector and foster Hollywood-Bollywood connections.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])