Ahead of the G-20 meet in Osaka, the US engaged with India on subjects ranging from investments to employment creation, data localisation to technology partnership, and trade to defence collaborations. On a short visit to New Delhi, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said American investments worth trillions of dollars are waiting to flow in, while pointing out that the industries must stay away from countries with weak law.
Addressing a gathering of diplomats and other eminent guests in the evening after his meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar earlier in the day, Pompeo said, “one million Indian youth enter the job market, every month. There are trillions of dollars worth of American investments, sitting on the sidelines waiting to be put to work in the Indo-Pacific region.” Currently, the US is the 6th largest source of historical equity investments into India.
Pompeo added that industries from both nations “should be helped to disengage from countries with weak rule of law and invest in coordination in each other’s economy’’. He didn’t elaborate on the countries “with weak law’’.
Referring to India's upcoming 5G telecom spectrum auction, which has already attracted six industry proposals for trials including from Chinese majors Huawei and ZTE, Pompeo made a pitch for participation of American companies in the process.
In the backdrop of America banning Chinese tech majors such as Huawei over security threat and the economic ties of the two countries hitting a historic low, he posed a question to India. "Can we work together as partners, with partners such as Japan, to keep India's networks, the 5G networks of the future, safe and reliable?’’ He added, ‘’I’m confident we can.’’ He stuck to the American position on the contentious issue of cross border data flow, and India's upcoming legislations that mandate data localisation. "Can we come to an agreement that allows data to flow freely so that we don't balkanize the internet, and make our own companies less competitive and impede economic growth? I'm certain there's a way," he said.
Companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook have repeatedly criticised the proposed data protection Bill, currently being drafted by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. On the other hand, regulatory oversight and taxation issues in the Commerce and Industry Ministry’s proposed e-commerce policy have also been under fire from the US.
Hot and cold
However, Pompeo hinted at rapprochement when it came to India's information technology sector. "India's IT sector is more than just a digital miracle. It's a source of great national pride. I know that," he said. The past two years saw multiple diplomatic spats regarding India's burgeoning IT exports to the US, that it claims leads to unfair trade deficit. The US has also continued to threaten a review of its H1-B visa scheme, expected to hit millions of Indian techies headed to the US to work with IT majors. Government officials maintained that the official American position on Indian IT hasn't changed and that the US has continue to bring up the issue at sectoral meetings. On the trade front, that has been plagued by tariff increases by both nations, Pompeo fell back on US President Donald Trump’s call for fair and reciprocal trade. This in effect asks major partners like India to cut back on their trade surplus quickly and significantly.
Friends to partners
Pompeo kept the focus on the inherent nature of both countries, as complimenting each other. "Look, we start from a good place — a very good place. We are blessed that US-India friendship is rooted in a solid foundation. The rule of law, respect for human dignity, the importance of civil society — these ideals, they allow people to flourish. The Indian people believe in them. And Americans believe in them as well," he stressed.
By extension, the Trump administration has also applauded India's stand on global terrorism assuring full intelligence support, along with a promise to expand defence ties even further. However, it continues to push India to take a stronger political role, that may compliment Washington's continuing diplomatic support for India in global affairs. This includes the US batting for India's inclusion into the United Nations Security Council, Pompeo said, arguing that a long friendship between two of the largest free and open democracies have transformed into a strategic global partnership.