PM’s address at the UNGA will underline the importance of India’s ascendency in global affairs and inevitability of long term strategic Indo-US partnership.
India’s foreign policy outreach witnessed an unprecedented change since 2014 when Narendra Modi assumed office. Foreign policy has always remained within the confines of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) since the time of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. But then Atal Bihari Vajpayee had emerged as a popular Prime Minister especially among the Indian Diaspora for what he did for them in the realm of empowerment and of course for his oratory.
But since 2014, credit goes to Modi’s charisma and popularity, coupled with his oratory and style of functioning domestically, that the NRI community, especially the ones in the US and other affluent parts of the world, has been going ecstatic about it.
There will be numerous photo ops and busy days for the shutterbugs and lakhs of television teams when Prime Minister Modi and US President Donald Trump regale the audience in Texas.
Sometime in June this year, the US terminated preferential tariffs, Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), to Indian exports after deciding that it has not committed to provide “equitable and reasonable access to its markets” for the US. As per US norms, a beneficiary country is expected to meet 15 eligibility criteria established by Congress which are discretionary and mandatory to qualify for GSP. Some of them include providing the US with equitable and reasonable market access, combating child labour, respecting internationally recognised worker rights and providing adequate and effective intellectual property rights protection. India expected the US to continue GSP, which was an important aspect of the trade negotiations, amounting to duty concessions on nearly US$6.35 billion of Indian exports qualifying for GSP benefits.
India will have to convince the US that its demands are highly disproportionate and also unethical to link it with non-trade issues. But New Delhi will also have to live with the idea that GSP is a benefit that US as a developed economy extends to underdeveloped or developing economies.
In return the US expects India to remove trade barriers for US industries and traders and also remove data localisation restrictions. India imposes nearly 113% to 300% tariff on agricultural products, earning the tag of “tariff king”. But New Delhi may not relent on agriculture as it remains a protected sector and beyond the parameters of trade negotiations.
While the government will have to address the duty and tariff and non-trade tariff barriers, it will be difficult for India to match the global standards especially set by the developing world.
While economic and trade issues are not difficult to sort out, what could ruffle the US feathers will be India’s defence deals with Russia, especially the S-400 purchase and other defence deals with countries in Europe. Needless to say, in spite of the strategic defence partnership with the US, India needs to keep the defence inflow as wide as possible for reasons best known to the strategic community.
While the focus of Prime Minister Modi’s US visit will be the joint rally in Houston, the other engagements are the ones that will reset the India-US relationship that was categorised as between “two estranged democracies”.
The trade and commerce initiatives and interest are seen as the prime driver of America’s global engagements. Naturally, Modi’s meeting with the CEOs of US energy firms a day before the Houston rally will boost the Indian markets further. But New Delhi needs to convince the White House that US alone cannot satiate India’s energy hunger. US sanctions on Iran have a strategic angle to it seen from the Israeli prism, but hurt India’s strategic gains in the region.
Prime Minister Modi’s address at the UNGA will surely underline the importance of India’s ascendency in global affairs and the inevitability of the long term strategic partnership between India and the US for a stable world order. Despite India having limitless potential, there will be limits to Indo-US partnership mainly because of inconsistency in US approaches to the maintenance of a constructive and positive engagement. Howdy Modi! will obviously provide a new impetus to the emerging equations in Indo-US ties.
Professor Arvind Kumar teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal. Seshadri Chari is a political commentator and strategic analyst.