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20 February 2014, Gateway House

‘The biggest concern is trade’

Marshall Bouton, an expert on the India-U.S. bilateral, talks about how ties between the two countries can be repaired. In an interview to Gateway House, he also discusses the steps India must take to integrate with the global economy, and the U.S.’s plans in Afghanistan

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Since last July the India-U.S. relationship has come under severe strain due to disagreements on issues ranging from intellectual property rights to immigration laws. During the diplomatic crisis in December 2013 involving India’s Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade, ties between the two countries reached a particular low. Gateway House’s Shai Venkatraman talks to Marshall Bouton, President Emeritus, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, on the recent road-bumps in the bilateral, the U.S.’s “zero troops” option in Afghanistan, and the steps that India can take to integrate with the global economy.

Q.   Several irritants have recently cropped up in India-U.S ties: in February 2014, the U.S. moved to downgrade the Directorate General of Civil Aviation in India; more recently, it approached the World Trade Organisation over India’s restrictions on solar imports. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also raised questions about safety standards in India; and the Khobragade incident has caused a lot of damage. Are you concerned that both countries are not doing enough to restore the relationship?

I think, thanks to the efforts of both, the United States embassy here and the Indian embassy in Washington, the two governments are figuring out ways to resolve some of the underlying issues that cropped up after the Khobragade affair, particularly the privileges and immunities that are accorded to the diplomats of our two governments.

But what’s needed most is some clear evidence that the two governments are committed to moving forward in the relationship. Some of the high-level official exchanges have resumed, and that’s very positive.

Regarding the other developments, these are bureaucratic processes, separated from each other, that happen to have come together in this time period. Actually, some of them reflect the greater interdependence of our two economies. So the FDA inspection review is not yet a downgrading, but a restriction on the export of generics manufactured by India. It only reflects how much India has become an important supplier, which was not the case even 10 years ago. So we have to expect these bumps on the road to our becoming more interdependent.

Q. In a recent paper, you mentioned that India has to do more to integrate with the global economy. What are some of the steps India can take?

The biggest concern is trade. India is now at risk of being left out of a series of major new trade agreements that could be concluded this year or in 2015-16, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade Investment Partnership. India’s own trade agreements with the EU and ASEAN are not proceeding apace. India has  tremendous export potential and now is the time to get itself into trade agreements so that it could further open up the trading system. I realise how difficult this is internally, but  it is really important. So I hope that the new government will address the trade policy issue.

Q.  The U.S. is talking about a “zero troops” option in Afghanistan if it fails to reach an understanding on the Bilateral Security Agreement with the Afghan government. How realistic is that option?

My view is that the United States will not go to the zero option in Afghanistan. The fact that the administration and Pentagon have decided to conclude the agreement after the new Afghan president takes charge, is a reflection of America’s desire to leave behind a sizeable force. It probably means that a fundamental decision has been made that, barring any untoward development, the U.S. will leave 12,000 troops in Afghanistan. And I think a plan has been worked out which will allow those troops to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, which is towards the end of the Obama presidency. We know that he hopes to tell Americans that one of his accomplishments was to get the U.S. completely out of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marshall M. Bouton is president emeritus of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, having served as its president from 2001 to 2013. 

This interview was exclusively conducted for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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