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N-power to brainpower

After joining hands with US for nuclear power, India should offer its market in exchange for knowledge. Is it the ideal swap? Amit Mitra speaks on nuke deal, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and US’s new ‘strategic relationship’ with India. Leaders at the summit

delhi Updated: Oct 23, 2009 11:20 IST
Amit Mitra

On July 18, 2005, history was created in Washington DC, spearheaded by two determined men representing 1.5 billion people of the world. They announced that the United States would supply nuclear fuel to India, despite the fact that India was not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This was the US’s new ‘strategic relationship’ with India. Leaders at the Summit

Of course, the ‘Ayatollahs’ of the NPT in Washington were up in arms. But little did they know that this juggernaut would roll forward relentlessly till it reached its goal. It was a part of George Bush’s ‘grand strategy’, centred around a missionary zeal for democracy. For Manmohan Singh, this was the window into a world of high technologies, space exploration, satellite navigation and launch, cheaper and cleaner power, biotechnology in agriculture, and many other cutting-edge aspects of research and development.

We are now approaching another milestone as both nations prepare for taking this engagement to another trajectory as Barack Hussein Obama receives Manmohan Singh in the Oval Office next month. This visit of Dr Singh will be the first state visit of any head of state since the inception of the Obama administration.

However, we need to reflect on what has been achieved over these four years from that historic day in 2005 and what more can be targeted to climb on to a new trajectory. Are there inherent synergies between our two economies, which could create win-win outcomes? And, what is in it for the people of India?

Yes, the nuclear deal, despite its rough patches, went through like a steamroller, notwithstanding China’s rumblings at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). In India, its reverberations precipitated the historic ‘confidence vote’ in the Indian Parliament, jettisoning the Left from the coalition.

Unfortunately, some of the other significant commitments made in the India-US Joint Statement of July 18, 2005, still remain unfulfilled. These would obviously form a part of Dr Singh’s Agenda in Washington while other pressing issues get, hopefully, addressed.

It is sad that the US continues to follow the ‘technology denial regime’ for exports into India. An analysis reveals that of the 16 commercial control measures in the US, India continues to attract 10 of those technology denial provisions. In contrast, countries like the UK, Turkey, Slovakia, Slovenia, Portugal, Poland, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Hungry, Greece, Germany and France attract only four such denials.

If India is a “strategic partner” of the US, then why this discrimination? President Obama terms his engagement with India a “special relationship”, but has not yet redressed this vital issue.

The US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture remains limp today and needs a strong stimulant. Agri-biotech research, a major core competency of the US, still remains elusive for India. Agricultural extension services, a vital tool from the US that powered our green revolution in the 1970s, still remain to be resumed. These are critical in the face of rising food prices in India, changing food preferences, growing demand and in our fight against poverty.

We are yet to engage effectively in the transfer of clean coal technology, coal-gasification technology, smart grids and other energy efficient and green breakthroughs in the US. Nor have we addressed the issue of a funding mechanism for the transfer of these vital and clean technologies, which would create, in the long run, massive markets for US firms in India and a cleaner greener environment for us.

Should we not set up a Commission on Joint Research Projects, which are of mutual interest to both countries in the areas of agriculture, clean energy, renewable energy, and life sciences? Yes, the HRD Minister’s move towards forming an India-US Education Council is a welcome, indeed!

This may well be the right time for initiating a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement focused on manufacturing and services. Let me point out that NAFTA Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico successfully left out the contentious area of free trade in agriculture, creating a precedent we could invoke to avoid the problem of trade distortion, agricultural subsidies in the US.

We must recognise that India’s vital interest in the next two decades lies in fighting poverty, particularly in rural India, climbing the value chain of technology to benchmark ourselves with the best, and enriching our human capital to a globally competitive level, whether in training, skill formation, higher education, commercialisation of technologies and R&D. These are the very core competencies of the US and form the potential deliverable to a rising India.

And, the US will get, in return, an appropriate space in the world’s third largest market.

The author is Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The essential thoughts quiz