U.S. Congressional approval for the GE-HAL jet engine deal involving the first ever such technology transfer between India and the U.S. is expected to come through in days, said U.S. Ambassador Eric Garcetti, suggesting that trade ties could make similar strides if India brings down its tariffs and has more “predictable regulations”. In an interview to The Hindu ahead of U.S. President Joseph Biden’s visit to Delhi for the G-20 summit, Mr. Garcetti said the U.S. would like to help, but will not “compromise” on language on Ukraine in order to forge a joint declaration. Excerpts:
Two months since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joseph Biden announced the technology partnership, and the GE-HAL Jet Engine deal involving technology transfer, what progress has there been in clearing it through the U.S. Congress?
We have a legal notification that will end on [August] 27. So by the time we’re at work on Monday, the notification and any chance [for U.S. Congress members] to object will be over. We haven’t seen a single whisper of an objection. In fact, we had a bipartisan group of representatives here for India’s Independence Day as chief guests. And this is something that unites Republicans and Democrats, unites the U.S.’s executive and legislative branch. And I fully anticipate that we’ll move forward and after that it is between the two companies. But this exquisite technology, which has never been shared before, 100%, of what we control will be shared with India, will be a game changer.
Prime Minister Modi had also discussed trade issues — there has been no movement on India’s demand for a restoration of its GSP status. In the remainder year of his term, will President Biden will push this through Congress?
Yes, it requires Congress. We need to get past fighting old battles, and declaring victories just because we lose tariffs or get preferential treatment back. We actually need to be more ambitious than that. We need to make it frictionless for Indian services and goods to come to the United States and vice versa, for India to join the fourth pillar (trade) of IPEF, three pillars of which it is already a member.
Will that happen?
You’d have to ask my Indian counterparts, but I think there’s a desire and a good possibility [of India joining IPEF trade pillar]. But we shouldn’t settle for bringing it back to where it was four or five years ago…I think we have a higher ambition for where we can go. And you’ll see record trade, I believe, in the next 12 months, given the reduction in tariffs. I certainly would love to see [the U.S.] Congress, move GSP back in for India. But let’s not stop there. We’re a relationship of deep friendship with many limits, we need to make sure that this is a relationship without limits, that we bring barriers down, and that we make regulations predictable and clear for the next decade if we’re going to succeed.
What is your reaction to India’s decision to levy new taxes on laptops and computers then?
We don’t read [the move] initially, as hostile, we read it as something that may achieve a goal we both share. But we do think that trade is best and investment is more likely to happen, when there are fewer barriers. And when there’s dependable, predictable regulation. It’s not just about manufacturers of laptops, and whether they can sell in India, it’s about companies that are looking at — do I open an office in India, and I need to buy laptops that suddenly become 25% more expensive or whatever. So we’re in a stage of listening, understanding and gauging certainly giving the feedback of some of our companies that have concerns, because I think we share the same goals, which is we want to see more manufacturing of components here.
On the subject of counter-terrorism cooperation, a U.S. court has stayed the extradition of 26/11 accused Tahawwur Rana in California — if he is extradited, has the U.S. placed conditions on how India can charge him or restrict capital punishment?
No, our extradition doesn’t have those limitations. This is the final appeal, where his lawyers will give their arguments in October, our government will respond in November. But we’re crystal clear that he needs to pay the price [for his involvement] and extradition should occur…and it’s up to the judges on the timeline for that. We’ve worked hand in glove, not just in the Rana case, but with drug operations with criminal and anti-terrorist operations, counterfeit prescription drugs or call centre fraud. Law enforcement has never worked [together] with more trust in a deeper way.
India announced that Prime Minister Modi and President Xi agreed to disengage and de-escalate tensions at the Line of Actual Control. How do you see this development ?
India is our friend, and we would like to help in any way they need at the border. We certainly support that borders should be respected. We also want to see all tensions de-escalate, whether it’s there on the Line of Control, or in the Taiwan Straits. We want a peaceful world and we need to be engaged with China, both of us. But we also share principles, in this case, sovereignty for India. And whether it’s the principles of intellectual property or the Law of the Sea, these things have to be respected by all nations. When the U.S. and India stand strong together, whether it’s on a border or whether it’s on a piece of intellectual property, it’s not just India plus the United States, it’s India times the United States. It’s an exponential power. And it speaks for itself to deter bad action, whether that be militarily or economically.
Given that, is President Biden prepared to do the heavy lifting required, and if necessary, compromise on some of the language on Ukraine in order to forge a joint declaration of the G-20, when he comes to Delhi next month?
I think besides a couple of countries [Russia and China], all of the G-20 nations believe very strongly that there are certain things you don’t compromise; that wars of aggression must be condemned, and that sovereignty and borders matter. There are people dying right now, there are people who are suffering right now. And that is non-negotiable. And it’s not just an American position. I can name every other country that feels the exact same way and besides a couple of voices, have been united in every single G-20 engagement. And I would hope the other countries will respect that and unite around that, and also give India the respect of ensuring a productive G-20.
But many G-20 countries were at the BRICS in Johannesburg and they were able to forge a joint declaration there with language on the Ukraine conflict. As the world becomes more polarised, do you think organisations like BRICS may take away the G-20’s momentum?
No, by definition, the 20 largest economies of the world will remain the 20 largest economies of the world. I’ve been blown away with how united the world is, in the face of Russia’s unprovoked aggression. Can you find some people who dissent or play around with that? Yes. But when you talk to people privately, people understand this isn’t just about geopolitics. It’s about human beings who are being killed, hospitals and schools and theatres that missiles are flying into and taking the lives of people. And if we don’t stand against that, what do we stand for?
Are you then disappointed, India hasn’t publicly changed its position on Ukraine, and President Zelensky is not invited to the G-20?
Well, Ukraine is not one of the 20 largest economies in the world. But we’ve been very pleased with the engagement with India, whether it was [PM Modi] meeting with President Zelensky in Hiroshima or NSA Doval attending the meeting on Ukraine in Saudi Arabia. We know that India can and will play a positive role and shares the desire for peace as soon as possible. But peace has to be with principle. Peace can’t just come with no rules.