Why It's Time to Deepen U.S.-India Ties | Commentary

At a time when Americans are seeking positive international relationships instead of conflict, there is no better choice than India. With a congressionally mandated U.S. International Trade Commission hearing scheduled this week, this is the right time to take stock of U.S.-India relations. The ITC hearing is part of an investigation into India’s trade, investment and industrial policies requested by the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Pew Research Center’s recently released quadrennial survey on “America’s Place in the World” found that support for closer trade and business ties with other nations is at its highest point in more than a decade. Fully 77 percent of Americans say that growing trade and business ties between the United States and other countries are either very good or somewhat good for the U.S. In India, there is a Pew poll suggesting a 74 percent favorable rating by India’s citizens toward deeper U.S. ties. It’s high time to capitalize on this sentiment.

There are many reasons India should be a top priority for U.S. attention. India is the world’s third-largest economy, gaining traction in its economic recovery from the global recession, and hungry for American goods and services. India’s young population yearns for better governance and greater freedom. The Internet has connected our countries as never before and the new U.S.-India knowledge economy is reshaping the commercial as well as cultural landscape.

Already U.S. exports to India have grown 491 percent in value since 2000. Bilateral trade now exceeds $100 billion, up from $25 billion when President George W. Bush visited India in 2006. Bilateral investment and commercial ties are growing at double-digit rates. Ten of the top 15 IT companies operating in India are American. In fact, U.S and Indian companies have partnered on many of the most important advancements in business efficiency, innovation and expansion — building a knowledge-based economy and helping U.S. businesses lead the way out of the global recession. More and more American jobs can be traced to this growing trade and commercial relationship.

We also have strong political and strategic interests in India. While the U.S. is the world’s longest-standing democracy, India is the world’s largest. India’s national elections this year will attract a stunning 800 million citizens to the polls, a cohort larger than the combined populations of the United States and all the European Union! Truly this will be the largest democratic undertaking in human history.

Strategically, India is a stabilizing force in a region known to be a “tough neighborhood,” surrounded by Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar and China. Since 2005, U.S. defense sales to India have grown dramatically from nil to more than $12 billion; India now conducts more annual military training exercises with the U.S. than any other country, and high-level dialogues are under way on both national defense and homeland security issues. The growing strategic partnership between our two countries encompasses cooperation in cybersecurity, higher education, clean energy, health care, environment, scientific research, space, and many other areas of mutual interest and concern.

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., co-chairman of the Congressional India Caucus, has summed up U.S-India relations by saying, “Our countries are linked through our common interest in the democratic process, global security and international prosperity.” As in any relationship, there are squabbles and areas needing improvement. The government of India has made progress in market access, the tax environment and legislation to enable more foreign direct investment — but there is more to be done in these areas along with fostering an environment that attracts innovation. In the U.S., the Senate passed an immigration bill that, if enacted into law, would seriously disrupt relationships between thousands of U.S. companies and their long-standing IT services partners, many of which are based in India. This would hurt U.S. businesses, discourage further investments in the U.S. and cost thousands of jobs for Americans.

Immigration reform we hope can be taken step by step, to include measures to stimulate U.S. economic growth and create jobs for Americans. The governments of both the U.S. and India — the world’s largest free-market democracies — must work together to nurture relations, avoiding missteps that undercut or erode the positive momentum of growing ties that have characterized the U.S.-India partnership these past 20 years. Let us dispense with public displays of acrimony over issues that should be worked through. It is imperative we strengthen our partnership with India, forging trust and creating a beacon of hope and freedom that will light the world for decades to come.

Ron Somers is president of the U.S.-India Business Council.