KOLKATA – U.S. Ambassador to India Kenneth I. Juster on Wednesday said India should seize the strategic opportunity through trade and investment to become a major hub for U.S. business in the Indo-Pacific region.
Juster said the U.S. seeks to assist India’s effort to build up “its indigenous defense capabilities as well as enhance the inter-operability of our two forces” as major defense partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
“India should now seize the strategic opportunity — through trade and investment — to become a major hub for U.S. business in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said while addressing a session hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce (Eastern Region) and the Bengal Chamber of Commerce here.
According to him, India is in the midst of an economic surge, as it integrates more into the global economy, and the U.S. trade and investment relationship with India continues to grow.
“Bilateral trade has gone from approximately $20 billion in 2001 to $115 billion in 2016. Of course, given the size of our respective markets, there is still plenty of room to expand these numbers,” he said.
Juster asserted there were many benefits in expanding the bilateral economic relationship and making India a regional hub for the U.S. business.
“Increased openness to U.S. goods and services and an expanded presence of U.S. companies will also stimulate private sector investment in improved infrastructure and overall connectivity,” he said, adding the U.S. companies had innovative technologies that could support India’s goal to create 100 smart cities.
“In a similar vein, we should enhance our efforts to promote connectivity within South Asia, which is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world,” he said.
Juster emphasized opening India’s market further to the U.S. as trade and investment would spur collaboration on many emerging technologies that would “drive and protect our economies, including those related to advanced manufacturing and cyber security”.
He pointed out that the U.S.’ environment technology could play a key role in helping India address air pollution, energy efficiency and other challenges.
The U.S. technology could also help India address its food security and agricultural concerns, he said.
Juster said cooperation in defense and counter-terrorism had been a key pillar of the partnership between the two countries.
Elaborating further on defense cooperation, he said the U.S. defense companies were already investing in India, producing components for complex defense systems.
“There is the defense sector, where we have gone from nearly zero sales to close to $15 billion in a decade – and this includes sale of some of America’s most advanced military equipment. We want to see this trend continue – because India’s defense needs are vast and because the United States, as a global leader in developing advanced military technology, is committed to enhancing India’s security,” he said.
According to him, India is projected to spend around $150 billion in this sector over the next 10-15 years, so the opportunity is enormous.
Juster said the U.S. is uniquely positioned to offer India a comprehensive energy partnership in all forms of energy — coal, crude oil, natural gas and nuclear power as well as technologies related to clean fossil fuels, smart grids, energy storage and renewable resources.
“And travel, tourism and education all play critical roles in our trade relationship with India. Indeed, the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office reported almost 1.2 million Indian visitors to the United States in 2016, and this is expected to grow to 1.4 million by 2022,” he said.
“Moreover, the reported number of Indian students studying in the U.S. in 2016 was 186,000, making India our second-largest source of international students,” he said.
Juster said the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy reflected the growing range of shared interests between the two countries and it was a natural complement to India’s “Act East” policy.
He also said that 200 American companies were operating in eastern India through direct investments.
“Last June, 10 delegates from east India were part of our India delegation to the USA Summit and we are hoping to double that number this year,” he added.