A Quad between the United States, Australia, Japan and India is an idea whose time has come, believes Mukesh Aghi.
“Why can’t we push it,” Aghi, chairman of the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF), told indica News.
“If you look at the economy of these four countries it is $33 trillion dollars and there are a lot of opportunities for the four countries to work together. So, we want thought leaders and put in a white paper and start conversing with policymakers; let’s go in that direction.”
“Our focus is a bigger picture in 2021 — making sure we executive that bigger picture.”
Aghi refused to read too much into President Donald Trump last year scrapping India’s name from the GSP trade program as a beneficiary developing nation, determining that it has not assured the US that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets.
Aghi called the issue “more symbolic.”
“If we see in the last 12 months the GSP exports from India after it was withdrawn have gone up substantively to the normal export,” he said. “It’s [the GSP designation] kind of an assurance to small exporters the jewelry makers, the leather guy, the US market keeps on encouraging. So, it’s more symbolic rather than substantial.”
Edtech, Aghi believes, is a sector full of promise for cooperation.
Aghi, who is a trustee at Claremont Graduate University in California, is working with a consortium of universities to see how they can provide some kind of hybrid model for Indian students.
“If a person is coming for a two-year masters or MBA in the US, one can do one year online from India and second year physically on campus,” he explained about the hybrid model.
“So this way there is a lot of saving where typically people who are working adults can continue with their jobs and higher education as well.”
He said they were looking at multiple such models.
“There is another model where I am looking at setting up of physical campuses in India, and lot of discussion is happing on about education and technology in India. I have been working on it for quite some time,” Aghi said.
“You have to understand India sends roughly 200,000 students each year spending $9 billion. How do you create a win-win value proposition… If half of them go back India and they become goodwill ambassadors for the US in India.
“There are issues and we are working with the Indian government to sort that out,” he added.
On the over-a-month-long farmers’ agitation in India over three new laws, Aghi said the issue was political.
“If you read the fine prints of the bills, it gives choices to the farmers to sell to the mandi, to anybody they want. And at the same time, it gives choices to the buyer,” he said.
“The issue is politics because you have mandi mafia, which likes to control this and not willing to give up on this. So, our position is we support the bills. And people are protesting then we support a peaceful protest also,” Aghi said.
“That is democracy and hopefully we’ll find a win-win value proposition for everybody.”
“You have people protesting from Punjab and Haryana, whereas a lot of farming is happening in other states as well — Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the rest of India. So, there is no real impact,”Aghi said.
“These bills are really important for the farm sector. You have to understand, 60 percent of India’s workforce is in farming. The question is today whether farmer goes to mandi, gets 24 cents to a dollar as income or gets dollar for a dollar for what they produce. If you open the market, it will keep away from a captive buyer… so the supply and demand will drive the value of farmers’ goods itself.”
“So, we strongly support the law because it gives more freedom and choice to farmers,” said Aghi.
“If one aspect of society is unhappy, we have to find the solution. Parliament has passed the laws you cannot say we don’t like it cancel that,” he said.
He said he also believed that farm sector reforms would open up new jobs.
He agreed that unemployment was a major challenge for India.
“Unemployment is a big issue and if the famers’ income doesn’t go up then these villagers would come to the city and get exploited in construction, etc. That is a big, big challenge India has,” Aghi said.
“One of the recommendations we have to Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi is do a massive infrastructure spending — a trillion dollars — build more roads, hotels, tourism which hire these people; creating a better infrastructure which creates jobs and the economy.”
He said from the US side, bringing more transparency to policymaking had been a longstanding demand.
“On IT side they [India] are world class but we need same on the manufacturing side also and so I think it is important we need a predictable environment; because investors would be looking for a return in their investment. And if we don’t have a predictable environment these guys are very cautious coming into the economy and that is our recommendation to the government of India,” Aghi said.