Market access for American companies and products an irritant in U.S.-India relations

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit March 11-13.

WASHINGTON,D.C.— Providing a retrospective of recent developments in U.S.-India relations, including the visit of Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale March 11-13, the Trump administration has said that the strategic interests between the two countries are “broadly aligned, structural, and deep.”

A senior State Department official, briefing D.C.-based South Asian correspondents on background, said that Gokhale’s visit and his meetings with cabinet officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton had “demonstrated the transformation of our strategic relationship.”

In showering praise on Gokhale and describing him as “a thoughtful and committed interlocutor,” the official said, “My overarching conclusion from the visit is that U.S.-India strategic interests are broadly aligned, structural, and deep,” and predicted that “our relationship will continue to thrive and that commitment to this relationship transcends party lines both here and in New Delhi.”

“We see eye to eye on Indo-Pacific issues, the pressing need to confront terrorism, and the critical importance of the growing U.S.-India defense relationship,” he said.

The Foreign Secretary’s visit kicked off with a meeting with Pompeo on March 11, and according to the official Pompeo had assured Gokhale that “the United States stands with India in the fight against terrorism and that we are committed to assisting India in bringing those responsible for the reprehensible Pulwama attack to justice.”

There were also discussions on “expanding our defense and economic partnership, our complementary visions for the Indo-Pacific, and our appreciation for India’s contributions in Afghanistan, as well as continued support for the mission of Special Representative (Zalmay) Khalilzad,” the official said.

Gokhale’s meeting with Pompeo was followed by two days of “Foreign Office consultations,” with Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale leading the discussions on the U.S. side “reinvigorating an important mechanism in which the United States and India get together to compare notes on global issues and talk about our cooperation throughout the world.”

“This year’s consultations included discussion of developments in the DPRK(Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), Iran, and Venezuela, and it was clear in these conversations that we have many joint goals and priorities,” the official said.

Gokhale also co-chaired the Strategic Security Dialogue with Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson and members of his delegation also held the India-U.S. Space Dialogue with Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Yleem Poblete.

The official said, “These discussions focused on some of the most pressing global threats and reaffirmed our commitment to working together to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and confronting threats in space.”

“Our consultations with India on these issues are of the same nature as those with our closest allies, demonstrating the level of trust and cooperation between our two governments,” he said, and added, “These conversations were frank, substantive, and strategic.”

Meanwhile, also taking place during this time was the meeting of the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) between Washington and New Delhi, co-chaired by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord and Indian Secretary of Defense Production Dr. Ajay Kumar, where the focus was on “encouraging U.S. and Indian industry to work together and develop next-generation technologies.”

The official said, “The DTTI included updates on ongoing projects and collaborative opportunities in land, naval, air, and aircraft carrier technologies, a meeting with U.S. and Indian industry representatives, and a visit to Norfolk Naval Station to tour the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and destroyer USS Bainbridge.”

Just one week’s worth of meetings, the official emphasized further underscored “the multifaceted nature of our partnership with India.”

On the tensions between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 Pulwama terror attack, the official said had clearly “underscored that the U.S.-India relationship is a global and long-term partnership, that we will stand by each other in times of crisis, and that we are working diligently to expand our habits of cooperation.”

“We stood publicly and resolutely with India in its response to the attack, as you saw in our statements, while joining the international community in encouraging both sides to avoid military escalation, de-escalate tensions, and communicate directly,” he said, and added that the administration was now “focused on pressing Pakistan to take sustained, irreversible action on terrorist groups operating on its soil, and we are working with others in the international community to achieve this goal.”

On the economic front, the official while acknowledging that the U.S. “is proud to be India’s largest export market and most important economic partner,” bemoaned the fact that “we have struggled with regulatory issues that get in the way of the ease of doing business and market access for American companies and products.”

He pointed out that “despite intensive engagement with the Government of India for nearly a year, India did not assure the United States that it would provide equitable and reasonable access to its market, which led to its termination from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program.”

“While we were pleased that growing U.S. exports to India, largely crude oil and LNG, led to a 7.1 percent reduction in our bilateral goods trade deficit last year, many structural challenges in our trade relationship have yet to be resolved,” the official said, and added, “Trade has frankly been an area of frustration in the relationship, but the door is open if India is prepared to bring a serious proposal to the table.”

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