US, India to boost defence, economic ties

Mr John Kerry with (from left) Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, and US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker during a news conference at the State Department in W
Mr John Kerry with (from left) Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, and US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Tuesday. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Both sides aim to increase bilateral trade fourfold to $710 billion a year; pacts to fight terrorism and climate change

WASHINGTON • The world's largest democracies, India and the United States, agreed on measures to deepen their security and economic cooperation on Tuesday, part of an ambitious drive to boost trade between them fourfold.

After the talks, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker admitted that the idea of increasing exchanges from US$100 billion (S$142 billion) to US$500 billion (S$710 billion) a year was "a big audacious goal", but said the meeting had left her very optimistic.

The US-Indian Strategic and Commercial Dialogue was launched in January by US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and on Tuesday, US and Indian economic and diplomatic officials came together in Washington.

"The President and the Prime Minister set out a goal for us... and I think there's a lot of opportunities," Ms Pritzker told Agence France-Presse.

"What feels new is the amount of energy that the Indian government is putting in to try to remove the impediments that have been faced by foreign companies trying to do business in India."

Asked how long it would take to increase trade fourfold, Ms Pritzker said no deadline had been set but added: "When you set big audacious goals, it helps move bureaucracies, and that's what's happening. We've got to change the way we do business."

The talks came as President Xi Jinping of India's Asian rival China arrived in the US, two days before Mr Modi was due, but US officials insisted there was no plan to build up India as a counterweight to China. Instead, they celebrated what Mr Obama has dubbed the "defining relationship of the 21st century" with agreements to fight terrorism and climate change and to bolster cooperation in energy, high-tech and defence.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said: "The US-India relationship is a bright spot on the international landscape and is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world. Our talks today have given us a platform for further progress... There are so many areas of cooperation."

Indian officials had said their priority for the talks was reinforcing commercial ties and securing access to US inward investment and technology, but also hailed a joint determination to fight terrorism.

The talks set up a New York meeting next week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly between Mr Obama and Mr Modi, whose four-day visit starts today.

Aside from China, which is expanding its deep-water naval presence in the broader Asian region and staking a claim to disputed areas of the South China Sea, the other looming issue is that of climate change.

As India's economic rise drags more of its population of 1.3 billion people into the middle class and the industrialised world, its historically low emissions levels are set to rise - just as the world is seeking cuts.

Indian officials made it clear before the talks that they will resist any pressure ahead of the Paris climate summit to act quickly, but came to Washington keen to work with US firms on renewable energy technology.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'US, India to boost defence, economic ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe