ALL THE VARIOUS COMMERCIAL AND ECONOMIC AGENCIES OF THE US SITTING TOGETHER, FOCUSING ON INDIA — THAT WAS A BIG MESSAGE THAT WAS DELIVERED. THAT WE ARE ALL HERE, WORKING TOGETHER, NOT JUST AGENCY BY AGENCY BUT TOGETHER PRIORITIZING THE RELATIONSHIP.
are going to be very busy.’
So, when the President visited… at that time, a deci-
sion was made to elevate the US-India dialogue from a
Strategic Dialogue — which was more security and for-
eign policy oriented — to a Strategic and Commerce
Dialogue, recognizing the increasing importance and
centrality of commercial and economics in the relation-
With regard to these highlights and the challenges in
the US-India partnership, what are the key areas that
have proved to be robust and have recorded significant
gains? How bullish are you in terms of these areas going
I would say that the fact that we launched this
Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, conducted the
first such Dialogue in September, between them four
works teams were set up.
One, on the ease of doing business and we focused on
issues of insolvency; India is coming out with a new
bankruptcy court and our team engaged in sharing best
practices in that space. The second team on infrastructure collaboration, an area identified very early. The
third one was on standards, as India wants to be more
integrated into the global economy and it’s essential to
convert into more standards with US companies
exporting more and Indian companies exporting more
as well. The fourth was on innovation and entrepreneurship
in both countries. In the US, we essentially almost consider
entrepreneurship-related exports as integral to the US as
innovation. India also, has a very vibrant area for innovation
So, work has been progressing in these four areas. Here, I
would applaud the efforts of the Government of India. For
instance, the Department of Industrial Policy and
Promotion, coming up with a way to have the various states
compete over the progress they are making in the ease of
doing business. They have published a report, essentially
measured by third parties, so that the states can have a sense
of competition on how they are doing. We are seeing some
advances there and we are seeing more and more deals being
done with India. These are the positives.
In terms of bullishness, I would say that we are optimistic,
and as Amartya Sen said, ‘Anything you say about India is
true and the opposite is also true.’ So, you have to have a long-term perspective, perseverance, patience and keep pushing.
You cannot stop — both sides have got to keep engaging.
I am happy to say that we are seeing a lot of competition
among the states to create a better climate. Many of the stories we hear, many of them are anecdotal, but encouraging.
But, at the same time, it’s not an easy place to do business by
At a broader level, America Inc has also been expressing
optimism, especially companies that have known India and
have been there for the long haul. But they too speak about
the challenges with the major ones being intellectual property
rights, pharmaceuticals, tax policies, local content and so on.
In these particular areas, how much of tangible progress
have you’ll made?
What’s the progress made on them vis-à-vis the private sec-tor-public sector partnerships, particularly since Indian
firms have also gotten out of that earlier closed mindset and
they are also in sync with these issues as they find it inimical
to their own progress?
You raise a really good point. But, first of all, I must say that
the whole issue of the ease of doing business — the Indian
government is very keen to change that. They are very
focused on that. I applaud their efforts on that, and people
are beginning to see the seriousness.
Now, they actually need to get to a point where you can get
a permit in a few days opposed to have multiple permits over
a long period of time.
You mentioned the private sector. The way we are looking
at the whole Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, with
regard to the commercial aspects of it, we want it to be driven
by the private sector, because they are the guys on the
ground. They do the business. They know the realities. They
know what is needed now to make investments. So, the US-India CEOs Forum has been reconstituted, and India has a
slate of 17 and we have 20 and they are deeply engaged with
They came up with an 80-page list of recommendations
and those are being prioritized. We want to make sure that
our dialogue essentially helps the CEOs Forum and the
recommendations are deeply integrated into our
Strategic and Commercial Dialogue so that we can
reinforce the government-to-government perspective.
So, the private sector is very active.
Many of the issues are common to the private sectors
of the US and India, which also applies to the topics
you mentioned like IPRs and so forth. There are great
Also, the US-India Trade Policy Forum has met
again; that’s another avenue where very constructive
conversations are going on.
Then I guess in all of these conversations, you also get
the permeating force of organizations like the US-India
Business Council, the Federation of Indian Chambers
of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian
Industry, Indiaspora, etc?
Absolutely. All these organizations are now working
together. It’s almost like an orchestra working on a
Track 2 to support the CEO Forum and the Strategic
and Commercial Dialogue.
A Bilateral Investment Treaty is something that has
been on the cards for years. When I speak to people like
Frank Wisner and Fred Bergsten, they’ve even had illusions of a Free Trade Agreement, but they acknowledge
that it has to be catalyzed by a BIT at the very least. But
apparently you’ll haven’t yet gotten to first base on it.
Why has it been such a hard nut to crack, considering
it could be something that really propels the trade and investment relationship?
There were constructive conversations last April, and I
would certainly agree that it would be a very big step forward
for us to reach conclusion on that. At this point, both sides
are understanding the structures of each other’s approaches.
So, there are a lot more conversations that are happening…
We certainly feel that it would be an important step — it
would be a big signal for that to be done.
You and a lot of people on the US side have been in favor of
India’s admission to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation.
Even President Obama has indicated that India’s admission
into the APEC would be a good thing vis-à-vis its global integration.
You have also spoken about the expansion of the TransPacific Partnership and the advantages of and to India as a
member. Can you elaborate?
When the President visited India in January 2015, we
welcomed India’s interest in joining APEC. (But) joining
APEC actually has to be not just a US suggestion. There is
a moratorium of countries and everybody has to agree. So,
we’ve been certainly encouraged by India’s aspirations to
On TPP, it’s an agreement. Once it’s concluded, it can be
open and others can join the agreement provided the member countries agree. The US views it as an open agreement in
the Asia-Pacific. But, before that, there are many steps that
countries have to take in terms of their openness of
economies, a readiness to join the highest standard of trade
agreements like TPP, etc.
But would you say the US, generally, is in support of India’s
admission to APEC?
The US is greatly in support of India’s integration into the
global economy. It could be many different approaches to
that, and the most recent example of that would be our
encouragement of their aspirations on APEC.
In terms of the expansion of the US-India Strategic
Dialogue to also include the commercial component, how
PHO TOGRAPHS COURTES Y: ARUN M KUMAR
From starting his career under the tutelage of Ratan Tata, top, to making a mark as a Silicon Valley entrpreneur and now working with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, bottom, Arun M Kumar has had a fascinating career.