Reviving the U.S.-India Partnership

When President Obama meets today with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he has an opportunity to revitalize the partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

This past weekend, I had the honor of speaking to the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston and discussing why the case for closer U.S. relations with India is overwhelming. Both of our countries are multi-ethnic democracies that share a native language, common values and a similar political heritage. India has a remarkably young population and a rising middle class, and the growth of its consumer market will create massive new opportunities for U.S. exporters in the decades ahead.

Meanwhile, both literally and figuratively, India sits at the crossroads of America’s biggest foreign policy challenges. It’s a country that borders Pakistan to the west and China to the north, a country that has repeatedly been attacked by terrorists and is concerned about maintaining stability in Afghanistan, and a country that continues to clash with Beijing over territorial claims.

India has a clear and critical role to play in upholding a balance of power favorable to U.S. interests in the region.

When President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a bilateral Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in 2006, they made it clear that a lasting U.S.-India relationship had finally arrived. Bill Emmott, a former editor of The Economist, has written that Bush’s embrace of India “may eventually be judged by historians as a move of great strategic importance and imagination.”

Under Obama, progress has been made on broadening our partnership on commerce and security-related issues, including the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative.

Between 2001 and 2013, U.S. trade with India grew by 372 percent, with U.S. exports to India growing by 482 percent. Yet, two-way trade and investment could — and should — be more robust than it is today. I am encouraged that Republicans and Democrats alike have called for increasing cooperation on issues ranging from energy policy to counterterrorism; but to get us there, Obama must invest himself in rejuvenating the partnership that was launched under Bush but has since stalled.

The president and Congress might start by making it easier for American companies to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to their Indian counterparts. Under current law, our companies are required to seek federal approval for all LNG exports to nations with which we do not have a free trade agreement. I have co-sponsored legislation with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that would accelerate the approval process for countries like India. Our bill would be good for the U.S. economy, good for the U.S.-India partnership and good for our mutual strategic interests.

Boosting American LNG exports is just one example of a modest but achievable short-term policy objective that would create a new sense of momentum. Others include signing a bilateral investment treaty (which is often the precursor to a free trade agreement) and making India a full member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Whether it is managing the rise of China, combating terrorism, stabilizing Afghanistan or protecting the free movement of people and cargo on the high seas, the United States and India are natural allies in confronting some of the biggest global challenges of the early 21st century. America’s strategic partnership with India was one of Bush’s greatest diplomatic achievements, and I hope Obama will seize this opportunity to make that partnership stronger.

Originally published on The Hill.



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