I just returned from my third trip to India in four years. Every
time I am struck by its confidence facing an ever more integrated world. Retaining
relatively high growth rates, India has been relatively unscathed by the financial
crisis. India's confidence about its future comes from a number of factors,
including the success of the India diaspora across the globe and its definitive
break with failed Indian- style socialism in the early 1990s. They have signed
on to a model of development that requires increasing openness and they see the
U.S.as a key partner.
The United States and India have many shared interests and
much of the credit goes to former President Bush for successfully "resetting"
the India relationship. After visiting Brazil and Russia in the last three
months for a project at my day job, I conclude that a new President will have a
most willing partner in India and a most able partner in Russia.
I met with senior officials of the U.S. and Indian
governments, leaders in the NGO sector, and think tank scholars who were all
very openly pro US. It was refreshing after meeting with Brazilians and
Russians with a laundry list of "issues" about the U.S. relationship. The U.S.-India
relationship benefits from the best "atmospherics" of the three. One senior
Indian official described the United States as the "greatest country in the
world" without hyperbole or sarcasm. These
are people with whom we can do A LOT of business.
Some facts to think about as we look to the 2012 election:
India has consistently provided a top number of
troops to the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission and continues to do so -- hundreds ahead
of other donor countries.
The number quoted to me is 3 million "overseas
Indians" in the U.S. The most prominent Indian American politicians are
Republican -- Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley.
India is slated to become the 3rd largest economy in the world
within the next few years.
With 1.1 billion people, it has something like
400 million very poor people. India has more poor people than all of
At the same time, India has sought to increase
its foreign aid to other countries and has a joint space exploration program
with Russia and is a member of the G-20. About eight years ago, India kicked
many smaller European donor countries out of the country because the
transaction costs were too high in exchange for the money they were getting.
This past year, our trade
with India hit nearly $50 billion, up from only $5 billion in 1990 -- a
relatively small number compared to other U.S. trading partners. For example,
U.S. trade with Canada totaled nearly $495 billion
in 2009 while trade with China totaled $390 billion.
Indian officials see the world much like those
in the United States with similar interests and concerns. The concerns about
terrorism were ever present in my visit -- constant metal detector stops at
hotels, metro stations, airports and government ministries -- a far cry from
Brazil's splendid isolation and sense of safety.
The opportunities with India are immense and our assistance
and other cooperation programs need to radically reposition our relatively
small amounts of foreign aid away from social service delivery to a number of
smaller catalytic activities that leverage Indian expertise, deepen the
institutional relationships between the two countries, and export India
expertise and innovation to third countries in line with Indian aspirations as
a global player. USAID and the State Department have started to make some
steps, but need to take much more aggressive steps over the next several years.
It will be hard to justify an annual foreign aid program in India as it becomes
wealthier, but there are a large number of opportunities to work together with
India requiring small and shrinking amounts of foreign assistance over time.
A new Republican administration would do well to heed the
Science and technology. Much has been written
about the Indian Institutes of Technology, one of which was funded and set up
by the United States in the 1960s through USAID funding. There is a strong
desire to link scientists and leverage India's lead in what is called "frugal
innovation" (which means solving problems in poverty-based contexts, such as
selling consumer goods in smaller/cheaper ways than traditionally imagined). The
Obama administration, to its credit, is working this area with enthusiasm (I
note as a good start the new innovation fund set up in December through
Agriculture. Norman Borlaug, one of America's
least famous (in the U.S.) Nobel Peace Prize winners, is a revered figure in
India because of the USAID-supported Green Revolution of the 1960s that
dramatically increased agricultural productivity in South Asia and helped feed
hundreds of millions of people. India still has agricultural challenges, but is
ready and willing to engage with the U.S. in third countries on agriculture. We
should take them up on this.
Democracy Promotion. India is the largest
democracy. It is often described as having "too much democracy." At the same
time, India is an ideal partner for any number of democracy promotion projects
in third countries. We are only just beginning to identify opportunities here. In
a future administration with a more outspoken Freedom Agenda, we should be
looking to bring India and others in on a more strategic basis.
Economic Integration. India has massive energy
and raw material consumption needs. India's needs are a part of the bigger
South Asia equation including China, Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere. Engaging
India in the greater South Asia challenges is a U.S. priority, but continues to
be stymied by the Indo-Pak dysfunctional relationship.
Free Trade. Taking the long view -- the
United States is a long way away from a free trade agreement with India
partially because of the closed nature of the economy. However, technical
discussions have begun between the U.S. and India on a "Bilateral Investment
Treaty," which is sort of a starter free trade agreement. The U.S. should watch
if the British are able to establish a "free trade agreement on services"
because the UK is the largest foreign player in services. If that takes hold, the
U.S. could follow if we made it a focus over two presidential terms.
Overseas Indian Community. "OICs" are going to
be the new Irish or Italians in U.S. domestic politics -- loved by all and very
invested in their home country. The Obama administration has invested a lot in
what they can offer in terms of expertise and appetite for investment and
engagement, but much more could be done to help provide brokering, convening,
training and seed capital. Small amounts of money will go a long way in India
and will be recognized at home.