By Surekha Vijh
WASHINGTON: India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia were in Washington DC to meet their counterparts in the Capital for the first time since the Trump administration took over.
They met with Speaker Mr. Paul Ryan, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Corker and House Committee Chairman Ed Royce and the Caucus Leader, Senator Warner and members of the House of Representatives They also met with Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, Homeland Security Secretary, John F. Kelly, National Security Advisor H R McMaster and Deputy Assistant to the President, Ken Juster.
Speaking to the media at the chancery, Foreign Secretary Jaishankar said their visit was an effort to engage the new administration and explain the progress that India-US relations have made in the last many years. “We have a sense of optimism, with the strategic and commercial dialogue and we also discussed the H1B issue,” Jaishankar said. “We were made aware that Trump administration has a very strong sense of optimism about the India-US relationship,” he added.
Jaishankar pointed out that Secretary Wilbur Ross, with his own business experience with India has been very positive. “Whether it was business or whether it was security and defense cooperation, whether it was our engagement in the region or working together on international issues, overall it was a very positive sense of India as an attractive partner,” Jaishankar said.
He further said that they have invited the US officials to India and they have accepted the invitation and we will work out the schedule soon. On the H1B visa, foreign secretary said that they have conveyed it to the US officials that it was a category of trade and services which helped the American economy to be more competitive and if the Trump administration intention was to bring back American companies to America and attract more foreign investment in America, “It would be important that the growing America remain competitive. Since the President Trump in his address to the Congress also referred to merit based approach to the subject.,” Jaishankar added. He elaborated that when there was a change in administration there were new set of players, new thinking, a different way of looking at the world, so clearly there were changes. “There are changes in how United States is approaching America leave alone how it is approaching the world. India-US relations with earlier administrations grew to a higher level, Jaishankar said.
“We hope to see a good relationship with the administration. Since India was a solid economic partner, a country with which there are very strong security and foreign policy convergences but at the same time given the fact that the Trump administration looks at the world differently from its predecessors, we need to absorb that and adapt to it,” he added.
He said in meetings with the Secretary of State, with the National Security Advisor they discussed the Asia Pacific, Afghanistan, challenge of terrorism and about political, security and defense cooperation. “The current administration was looking forward to working with us,” Jaishankar said.
“With the Secretary Ross it was more focused on bilateral trade and economic cooperation and with Homeland Security, issues related to immigration and also the welfare of the American Indian community and Indian community in States,” she said Commerce Secretary said that acknowledging India’s robust growth, there was a recognition of contribution of the Indian tech sector and when discussed in details “it would be part of the overall immigration package, “ she added. “Our investment into the United States and this is an investment which is coming in the manufacturing and services space, has been growing and it expands across the sectors of Chemicals, Pharmaceutical, not just the IT sector,” she added.
Teaotia pointed out that there was a large range of companies who were already invested in the United States and that the trigger to economy was going to create more opportunities. At the same time, through all the interactions that there was an appreciation of the acceleration of reforms in India.
“A lot of interest on the impact of GST when it rolls out and the outcomes in terms of ease of doing business that people are beginning to see already and some of the American companies who have invested in India are seeing very accelerated growth rate,” she added “And that our trade has grown over these years, something like 9 percent and that the reform process that India has not put in place including things like the IPR policy, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, all these are known measures that give a sense of comfort to investors,”
Talking about Harley Davidson, the commerce secretary said that they were informed that Harley Davidson has set up its own plant in India already and this is their first plant in Asia and they service of much of Asia from this place and was not an issue for Harley Davidson in India. The safety of Indians working in the US was big concern, since an Indian engineer was killed in Kansas while a Sikh in Kent was wounded, “A very tragic event which took place in Kansas, which featured in many of our discussions. What we heard from very high levels, cabinet levels, was that one, we should regard this as an act of an individual and that the American justice system was at work to bring the perpetrator of this act to justice. It is being prosecuted as a hate crime,” he added.
He said they have seen in the last few days whether it was the White House Statement or President’s own reference when he spoke to the Congress or what the Speaker said. “After we met or the fact that the House of Representatives observed a moment of silence,” he added
“There was consensus that American society was very much against it,” Jaishankar said.