Diplomats, past and present, agree that there’s a big future in an even stronger bilateral relationship
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump have certain common characteristics, and they are both outspoken visionaries, according to David Mulford, former ambassador to India (2004-2009).
Mulford was speaking at a recent panel, “Driving Stronger US-India Business Ties, Challenges and Opportunities,” at Women Entrepreneur Quest, a conference hosted by India’s Department of Science and Technology, the Anita Borg Institute, Global ScaleUp, Peerbuds, KloudData and Spinta on May 11, in Fremont, California.
Also on the panel moderated by M. R. Rangaswami, entrepreneur and founder Indiaspora was Ambassador V. Ashok, India’s consul general in San Francisco.
Mulford said that during his five year stint in Delhi he saw dramatic changes in US-India relations over the nuclear deal, which he described as a significant milestone for the two countries. He said the links became stronger when President, Obama visited India, the relationship has strengthened further and with president Trump, he said, “we have to see at what point the relationship can go forward.”
“My own personal view is that United States government should differentiate in its policy outlook,” said Ambassador Mulford and added, “My feeling is India is the perfect sizeable partner for us to engage in bilateral negotiations. Not just for a free trade investment agreement and its complexities but instead to start down the road, which would be deal by deal, sector by sector engagements with India on an ad-hoc basis. Where you can cut remarkable deals without getting all the proliferation-complicated agreements.”
He said it was pragmatic to appreciate that India would , like to create is its own defense industry, a vision it has had for years. He wondered why the US would not welcome that given the kind of deals for manufactured equipment that could create jobs in joint ventures in both countries.
“But we have to set up and work on regulations and as we did during the nuclear deal,” he said, adding that this would also help in healthcare and energy. He suggested leaving for another day the complex and heavily regulated agriculture system.
Mulford apparently spoke with the weight of his experience as the former chairman international and a member of the executive board of London-based Credit Suisse when he lauded India’s move to paperless transactions.
“India’s is not savvy in credit card infrastructure, so it is moving directly to paperless transition. This is a revolutionary development,” he said, and added that while credit cards may be useful there was insufficient domestic credit card infrastructure in India.
“India is two steps ahead of the world,” he said.
When Rangaswami asked Mulford’s about a possible trilateral relation between the US, India,and Canada, relying on the diaspora, Ambassador Mulford said, “I would be careful not to get entangled because entrepreneurial activities are best performed outside a rigid government.”
Ambassador Ashok said he agreed with the idea of a strong bilateral relationship, even pointing out a trilateral one between India, Japan, and the US in the form of a joint navy drill. He said that it would be unthinkable for somebody in the cold war era to describe this as a possibility to someone in India.
But today there has been large movements in terms of India engaging in military cooperation with the US, including on the counter terrorism front and issues such as homeland security and cyber security.
“India is one of the largest buyers of defense equipment. We see the US is valuing the benefit and seeing India as a major defense partner,” he said, while discussing defense deals. “I think it’s only matter of time before there is a formal acceptance.”
Ashok also highlighted Indian investments in the US, such as those by Mahindra, TATA, and Reliance.
“You see more and more strategic connections happening,” he said. “This is how the two countries will engage with each other in the future.”