Secretary General Mitra, thank you. I would like to thank you and everybody involved with FICCI for hosting this event. I have always appreciated the USG’s excellent working relationship with FICCI, and I thank all of you for taking the time to be here today.
FICCI has played a critical role in economic regional integration in South Asia. FICCI’s hosting this event is especially fitting because of the organization’s role as the Indian nodal point for the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I commend you on the recent FICCI-Asian Development Bank report on harnessing business opportunities in South Asia.
I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss regional trade, particularly just before I travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan on this trip, and then to the SAARC Summit next month as an observer. I’m especially interested to explore today how all of you can expand the linkages that Indian business already has established with those countries, which will help bolster regional stability and prosperity. Let me provide a quick update on the U.S.-India relationship. Some in the media allege that India is less important to the Obama Administration than to Bush. Nothing can be further from the truth.
President told PM Singh during the first and thus far only state visit of the Administration that we see India as an “indispensable partner” for this century. We have also taken concrete steps to show that, most importantly by the establishment of a strategic dialogue that Secretary Clinton and Minister Krishna initiated last summer and will meet in the next several months. This Dialogue elevates the wide range of ongoing official discussions we have with India on every topic from agricultural cooperation to climate change mitigation to trade policy.
Of greatest to all of you, we are looking to integrate private sector components into virtually all of our dialogue to ensure that the efforts of our governments are informed by and can help catalyze private sector activity.The CEO forum provides a chapeau for much of that work but the Obama Administration is partnering with the private sector on a far more systematic basis to create public private partnerships to expand the reach of our own efforts while helping to advance your objectives.
We have also begun to develop strategies to support greater involvement by small and medium enterprises in each other’s economies, to create public-private partnerships to further develop and modernize India’s infrastructure, to promote clean energy technologies and environmental services, to foster university-to-university linkages, and to encourage the growth and exchange of information, communication, and health care technologies.
Underlying all of this are the strong people-to-people ties, common values, and shared interests which bind our two nations together. These are really what make the US-India partnership unique. You’re all familiar with the 2.5 million Indian-Americans, who live in the United States and who do so much to serve as a bridge between our two societies and between our two economies. We also have more than 100,000 Indian students studying in American colleges and universities, sharing ideas and making lasting connections in diverse fields.
One of my priorities as Assistant Secretary has been to work closely with the Indian-American Diaspora and other Diasporas to try to partner with them in as many ways as we can. Again, they want to do more to help India, and we would like to draw on their many talents. So again, we’re excited about some of those prospects as well. The value of the U.S.-India relationship today is only surpassed by its potential tomorrow. We will not always agree on every issue, but we should honor our partnership by continuing to work with each other on matters of mutual importance and encouraging each other to be the best we can be.
In fact, our bilateral relationship has deepened to the extent that we now look to improve how the U.S. and India work together in a multilateral context on global issues, such as climate change, human rights, nonproliferation, development and trade.India’s emergence as a world power and its aspirations to become a permanent member of the UNSC suggest that India work with the US and others to manage and cope with the challenges the world faces and seize the many opportunities before us.Where before India may have deferred to Non-Aligned Movement sensitivities, it is important that India take on these greater responsibilities. Already we see India playing a productive role in the international community in the G-20, the IAEA and regional organizations such as SAARC.
Greater peace and prosperity in the countries surrounding India would do much to enhance India’s position in the world. Yet regional integration in South Asia has proceeded slowly. Intra-SAARC trade represents only 1/20th of the world’s total even though the trading block accounts for over 1/6th of the world’s population. Contrast this with ASEAN, a trading block with a significantly smaller population, whose intraregional trade represents quarter of global trade.
Reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers, promoting the harmonization of customs standards, and streamlining the visa process would all spur innovation, investment, and industry. If implemented under the auspices of SAARC and via the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), this model for inclusive growth would help India meet its stated goal of achieving 10% growth in a few years.
The upcoming SAARC summit in Bhutan (April 28-29) presents an excellent opportunity to step up economic integration and trade liberalization in the region. The recent FICCI and Asian Development Bank report “Key Proposals for Harnessing Business Opportunities in South Asia” presents a number of additional important proposals for progress on non-tariff barriers, motor vehicle integration, and improving land customs stations within SAARC. I will encourage my government interlocutors to take these ideas into account. I agree that India, as the largest and most dynamic country in South Asia, must be magnanimous in its unilateral trade concessions.
We also see opportunities for SAARC to encourage regional cooperation in areas such as clean energy, water, climate change, and education. As the largest member of SAARC, India is best-placed to catalyze SAARC’s potential to act as a neutral regional forum to promote regional cooperation, particularly in the economic sphere.Just this year, India signed five potentially game-changing agreements with Bangladesh. These agreements will advance bilateral counterterrorism cooperation, facilitate water sharing, and tender a $1 billion line of credit to its neighbor.
Let me add a few words here regarding the regional dynamic between India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. India has played a very helpful role in rebuilding Afghanistan by constructing critical roads and long distance power lines and providing food for school children. By moving to expand ties between the entrepreneurs and peoples of Pakistan and India, FICCI can play an important role in building stability, peace, and prosperity across the region. Expanding trade is in the interest of India and Pakistan because it will create economic growth and new opportunities for entrepreneurs and workers in both countries.
FICCI has also taken on less formal roles, such as its sponsorship of the “Made in Pakistan” exhibitions. I’d like to learn more about those events, as well as the planned reciprocal “Made in India” exhibitions in Pakistan, and see how the U.S. can help you overcome challenges in trade with Pakistan. Please let me know if you see a role the U.S. can play in complementing the commercial linkages that you have founded.
Thank you again for arranging this forum.