Economic issues likely to dominate Kerry's visit to India

Economic issues like intellectual property protection, local content restrictions and a continued cap on FDI are likely to be on top of his agenda when US Secretary of State John Kerry travels to India next week for the strategic dialogue between two countries.

Washington: Economic issues like intellectual property protection, local content restrictions and a continued cap on FDI are likely to be on top of his agenda when US Secretary of State John Kerry travels to India next week for the strategic dialogue between two countries.

"First and the foremost from our perspective will be economic piece of this (dialogue). There has been lot of concern on part of American business community about what they see as growing obstacles to trade and investment," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, told an audience here.

Both Kerry and President Barack Obama have been receiving letters from the US business community, advocacy groups, Senators and Congressmen on the trade policies of India, which they claim is harming American businesses.

"Intellectual property protection, local content restrictions, continued restrictions on FDI in different sectors. This is certainly going to be our focus," Blake said, adding that one of the goals is to reinvigorate the bilateral investment treaty talks and conclude them as soon as possible.

Likewise, the US wants to reinvigorate the trade policy forum, and will also push for continued progress on the civil nuclear side, he added.

Responding to questions, Blake said the US is not looking at any deliverables during the strategic dialogue, except to making sure that they understand each other on these issues.

"India has its own concerns on comprehensive immigration reform. Obviously we need to hear from that. The purpose of the dialogue is to hear each other out in a very open and friendly manner and then figure out who is going to take charge of fixing these," he said.

As a result of the three rounds of strategic dialogue so far, Blake said there has been significantly quite convergence of strategic growth between the United States and India.

Referring to the various bilateral and trilateral dialogues between the two countries, Blake said: "All of these collectively really enabled us to have an extremely good dialogue on issues that were previously very difficult."

"Things like Afghanistan, Iran, Burma and Middle East were areas of quite sharp differences. Now we have a remarkable degree of convergence, which has been a very welcome to see.

Non-proliferation, food security, scientific and academic co-operation, climate change, defence trade, and regional issues like Afghanistan and Pakistan will also figure prominently during Kerry's visit, Blake noted.

Responding to questions, Blake said India is one of the highest strategic priorities for the US.

Similar views were expressed by Kerry also, who, in a video message ahead of his trip to New Delhi, said the US welcomes India as a rising power and fervently supports it, as a strong India is in America's national interest.

"It's one that demonstrates our firm belief that a strong India is in America's national interest. The US not only welcomes India as a rising power, we fervently support it," Kerry said in his video message, which he started with a 'Namaskar'.

"That's why President Obama and I support India's inclusion as a member, a permanent member, of a reformed and expanded UNSC," he said.
Kerry said it will be safe to say that India-US collaboration has never been more important than it is today.

The Secretary said he was looking forward to visit some of "extraordinary historic sites" in New Delhi and excited to meet with the next generation of Indian leaders.

"I've had the pleasure of travelling to your beautiful country on a number of occasions. I've been there during times of both great joy and also sadness," Kerry said.

"As President Obama has said, the friendship between our two nations is one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century," Kerry said.

"Today, the US and India collaborate closely in almost every field of human endeavour. Together, we are tackling shared challenges and making the most of new opportunities.

From higher education to clean energy, counter-terrorism to space science, we are seizing new opportunities to work together," Kerry said, and praised the reconstruction and development work carried out by India in Afghanistan.

"Our students and educational institutions are collaborating in record numbers. US businesses are investing in India's booming markets. Indian innovations are powering Silicon Valley," he said, noting that over the last decade, the bilateral trade has grown five-fold.

Meanwhile recalling Kerry's background with India, Blake observed that the Secretary of State is "no stranger" to the country.

"He (Kerry) likes to tell everybody that he first visited India about 20 years ago and led one of the first Congressional trade delegations to India," Blake said.

When the Bush Administration pushed through the historic civil nuclear deal, Kerry, then as a top Democratic Senator, played a key leadership role in its passage, Blake said.

As a Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry also played an instrumental role in shaping the India policy of Obama Administration in his first term.

"We have been closely coordinating with Senator Kerry, before he became Secretary Kerry. Now of course he is extremely engaged leading up to the dialogue," Blake said.