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Manmohan-Obama meet to focus on economic ties

business Updated: Nov 23, 2009 07:17 IST
IANS
Manmohan Singh

Economic ties are expected to form the cornerstone of the new framework that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama hope to create to take the India-US relationship to a "new level" at their summit this month.

Over the last few days, officials on both sides have spelt out the broad contours of the new relationship that they hope to see emerge from Manmohan Singh's first state visit hosted by President Obama.

"We are at an exciting moment of hope and opportunity, as Prime Minister Singh and President Obama prepare to build on the progress we have made to take the relationship to a new level," the Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar said at a recent address to Houston's Rice University.

"The heart of their effort will be to create a framework that unleashes the energy and the enterprise of our people - to build a relationship that will make our nations safer and more prosperous but also help to address the global challenges that we face," she said.

"The real wind in our sail has been the tremendous growth in our economic partnership and the ties between our peoples," she said noting just in the last five years, India-US trade doubled and US exports to India grew three times.

"As we enter a new phase in our relationship, at a moment of great global economic uncertainty, our economic partnership will be a new source of strength in our relationship," Shankar said.

Washington's point man on South Asia seems to agree as the US side makes preparations "to ensure a good, substantive schedule" for Manmohan Singh.

Talking with a group of India experts at the Asia Society in New York earlier this week, Robert O Blake, assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, suggested the future of US-India relations rests on the shoulders of the private sector.

Blake, who served as deputy chief of mission in New Delhi between 2003 and 2006, stressed the opportunities for foreign investment in an India ruled by a new stronger Congress-led United Progressive Alliance that will be around, most likely, for the next five years.

"We have a real opportunity to work with our Indian friends," Blake said, particularly in increasing the foreign investment cap in sectors such as education, technology and defence from 29 per cent to 49 per cent.

With a receptive party in control, almost every tangible relationship between the US and India will be characterised by investment opportunities, according to Blake.

Outlining Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "Five Pillars" to strengthen the US-India relationship, Blake highlighted the great opportunities they provided for American companies to tap into arms sales.

Beyond defence equipment, Blake sees agriculture as a key sector for investment - one that, if handled carefully, could show India's 800 million rural citizens how diplomacy can work for them.

Even as business opportunities dominated Blake's speech, he noted India's great interest in taking part in global decision-making bodies, including a bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

But voting "present" is not going to be enough. Issues such as non-proliferation and counter-terrorism will require India to provide not just their vote, but solutions, he said.

Shankar too did "not see our partnership for prosperity merely in terms of opportunities for multiplying trade and investment, but also for finding solutions to the pressing global challenges of our times".