Washington, Jan 21 (PTI) After achieving enormous progress in their overall relations, the US and India must now set bold goals to take their ties to a new level and achieve the ambitious target of $500 billion in bilateral trade, Atul Keshap, the new president of the influential US India Business Council (USIBC) has said.
“I think it's vitally important that we show that democracies can deliver; that the United States and India can be a driver of global growth, growth and a model for prosperity and development in the 21st century,” Keshap told PTI in an interview.
Keshap, a veteran American diplomat, has served in various capacities during his illustrious career with the US State Department. These included the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.
Last year he served as the Chargé d'affaires of the United States mission to India, during which he helped shape the India US relationship in the first year of the Biden Administration.
“I feel it's vitally critically important that we show that open societies powered by free enterprise can be relevant for their people and can help power the world out of this pandemic. I tend to agree entirely with President (Joe) Biden and Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi that the US India Partnership is a force for global good and it's going to have a huge impact on economic growth on reducing poverty on global security and dealing with all of the challenges of our time,” he said.
“So, upon deeper reflection,” the 50-year-old former diplomat noted, he decided that USIBC is the place where he can put the most effort into helping people of the two countries. US Chamber’s president Suzanne Clark in her speech last week drove home the point that democracies need to be ambitious, and they need to think boldly.
“We need to move forward on the global trade agenda. We need to ensure the prosperity of the future, especially after this pandemic,” he said. During the interview, he referred to the vision of Biden, which he set as the vice president, about potentially having $500 billion in trade in goods and services between the United States and India.
“That's a very ambitious number and I believe in it. It is a great idea to try to have ambitious targets and to be ambitious if we in our democracies are not ambitious, then we are only at a standstill. So, we should always be improving,” he said.
Keshap said, last year, he was most impressed by the reaction by American business and the USIBC membership, wherein hundreds of companies rushed aid and oxygen supplies and ventilators to India in its moment of need.
“We never forgot back in America that when we needed help early in the pandemic, India came to our aid. And when India needed help we did our utmost to bring aid to India,” he said.
“That's what friends do. We have to work together. If democracies don't work together, it's going to be a much darker future for all of humanity. This is something I profoundly believe in. I'm optimistic. I'm ambitious. The Chamber is optimistic and ambitious. The member companies of USIBC are fully dedicated to seeing greater growth in trade and economic relations between the United States and India. I want to put my energy, my entrepreneurial spirit, my spirit of service and devotion to this relationship to work,” he asserted.
In his new role, Keshap said he wants to help meet that USD500 billion bilateral trade goal.
“This is where the government and the private sector have to work together hand in hand. They have to build an argument that people of our free countries can believe in. Ours are democracies. We have to obey the will of the people: 1.7 billion Americans and Indians working together,” he said.
“So, we have to articulate the vision and the ambition, and we have to articulate the benefits and we have to convince all of our stakeholders that there is value in lowering trade barriers. There is value in creating strong standards. There's value in creating positive ecosystems. There is value in dealing with small technical issues that might be creating a blockage to greater prosperity between our countries,” Keshap said.
When Keshap, first as a US diplomat, started working on India US relationship the bilateral trade was USD20 billion, which increased exponentially to USD147 billion in 2019.
“So, we're on the way. That is because of positive, friendly, mutually respectful work between bureaucrats, politicians, technical experts, corporate officials to try to make sure that that number continues to grow,” he said.
Keshap articulated that the two countries need to be ambitious now. “This is a dangerous moment in world affairs,” he said. There are all kinds of stresses and challenges during the pandemic, including economic stress, challenges from other countries and other systems.
“I think it is incumbent upon the United States in India to build the strongest possible relationship for our own safety and wellbeing. That is profoundly linked to the economic and commercial and investment relationship. The more we can talk to each other as friends to build a robust Indo Pacific supply chain that weaves us more closely together, the happier I'll be,” Keshap said.
The more than a dozen non-stop flights between India and the United States, he said: “is the symbol of how much growth we've had and how close are countries are getting. What I want to do is put even more energy into seeing that expand. I have a very very ambitious vision of what the US in India can achieve together.”
Total bilateral trade between India and the US stood at $80.5 billion in 2020-21 as against $88.9 billion in 2019-20. India's exports to the US stood at $51.62 billion in 2020-21 as against $53 billion in 2019-20. India's imports from the US stood at $28.9 billion in 2020-21 as against $35.9 billion in 2019-20, according to commerce ministry data.