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South and Central Asia: Question and Answer Session at The American Center

Also see Assistant Secretary Biswal's speech.

Moderator: Thank you very much for some very thought-provoking ideas. I’m sure there are several people in the audience who would like to take you up on your request for some questions. We have microphones on each side. I think we have one here in the front.

Audience: Madame Assistant Secretary, Pratyush Kumar from Boeing.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: It’s good to see you again.

Audience: It’s very good to hear your commitment to bilateral trade. I read with keen interest your op-ed as well, in which you mentioned the quintupling of the bilateral trade between India and the U.S.

When Vice President Biden was here last July he talked about potentially quintupling that once again. However, given the list that he went through in terms of trade disagreements between the two countries, how do you see that potential?

Assistant Secretary Biswal: I think we’re very bullish on the potential of the relationship. Not only because of India’s demographics, India’s location, all of the various assets that I enumerated in my remarks; but also because quite frankly there’s so much synergy and convergence, that there’s a natural desire to partner with and invest in India.

We do have challenges, and I want to put those challenges into context because I think that India has made much progress. There’s more that needs to be done.

The United States has traveled its own journey and we’ve gone through our own experiences of liberalizing and opening up our own economy, and we’ve seen the very real benefits that have produced for our economy.

So I’m sure that we will continue to work through the areas of difference or divergence, and that we will continue to be incentivized by the very real potential and the very real benefits to both of our societies and to both of our peoples.

Audience: Good morning to you. [Inaudible].

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thank you. I’m long overdue to visit Orissa.

Audience: [Inaudible] --

Assistant Secretary Biswal: This is a preface to a hard question. I get it. Okay.

Moderator: But please, get to the question if you don’t mind. We have limited time.

Audience: [Inaudible]

Moderator: Can you please get to the question? We have a limited time.

Audience: Don’t you think, what is the U.S. concern? Is something [inaudible]? India is [inaudible]. Don’t you think it’s unfounded [inaudible]?

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Look, I think that we need to have a very real conversation between government and industry. There are a number of different issues that need to be sorted out and worked through. There are issues with respect to compulsory licenses and there is probably a lot of speculation that doesn’t help the situation. I understand that India has issued one compulsory license, but there is a lot of anxiety about what additional licenses are being considered. So I think that’s an area that we ought to have a real transparent conversation.

There’s also concern about next generation drugs and whether those next generation drugs would be protected. How do you ensure that investments that are being made to develop ever more effective drugs can then continue to be protected? I think those are, again, questions that need to be addressed.

There is obviously a lot that has been done with respect to trying to find ways to address some of the very real health needs that India and other emerging economies have manifested in terms of drug pricing, and I think that there’s been increasing receptivity amongst the pharmaceutical industry to look at options like tier pricing to help address some of those questions.

So there are challenges and there are solutions, and I think again, that the issue here is to bring together industry and government and work together and find those solutions.

I want to commend your Ambassador in Washington, Ambassador Jaishankar, for convening just one such gathering. I know he hosted a meeting with a number of pharmaceutical companies to be able to understand and hear their concerns and to be able to explain and express Indian concerns.

I think those are all very very positive things and I would simply encourage more opportunities to sort through those issues.

Audience: Surendra Kumar, Founder President of Indo American Friends Association and American Former Consul of India in Chicago.

I must compliment you for article ...sounded very balanced objective.

We keep reading a lot about in the U.S. press how many jobs are going to Bangalore, but we don’t read much about how many jobs have been created in U.S. You referred to our friend Jaishankar. Recently [inaudible] said defense contracts last four or five years, totaling U.S. dollar $9 billion. They themselves will create something like 40,000 jobs in U.S. IT companies according to CII report have invested about $18 billion dollars in U.S. and have created 400,000 jobs. So Indian people don’t get to read a lot what Indian company investment is going in U.S.

My question is related to connectivity. You said South Asia can connect to Southeast Asia and then South Asia connect to Central Asia. In this context you might have read Chinese proposal for Maritime Silk Route. Do you have any comment on that? Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: I have to confess on your second question that I don’t have enough information on the Chinese initiative, so I look forward to reading more about that.

But let me say first, I think you make a very valid point that in both countries we need to do a better job of articulating the importance and the benefits to both of our societies of the bilateral trade and investment. And it is two-way trade and it is two-way investment. I think Indian companies are investing something in the neighborhood of $25 billion in the U.S. economy. That’s a very important investment and one that we welcome and one that we would like to see grow and expand. Similarly, we want to see more U.S. investment in the Indian economy. There are very real tangible benefits to both of our societies.

I also think that you are fair to criticize us in sometimes not engaging enough in the people-to-people side to invest our societies in that vision of this relationship and this partnership by explaining these issues in more clear and compelling ways.

I will take that on myself personally in terms of not only giving speeches here, but also back in the United States that again lay out this vision in more clear and compelling ways, so thank you.

Moderator: If the questions are kept short we have time for two more.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: And I’m giving long-winded answers, so I apologize.

Audience: Hello, I’m Annapoorna Wancheshwaran from the Energy and Resources Institute.

Nisha you make us all proud.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thank you.

Audience: What I wanted to inform you was that we had the pleasure and privilege of meeting you at the U.S.-India Energy Partnership Summit which is a Track 2 Initiative with TERI and you were there with us in September.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Yes.

Audience: And I have actually forwarded, this is the proceedings of the summit which came out and I quote what you had mentioned there, that “Bringing electricity and clean forms of energy to the one-third of Indians currently deprived is a monumental imperative in India.”

My quick question is because we had a fantastic discussion with you and with other colleagues, at that time you were in USAID, but with your new portfolio will this imperative become an impetus? Because as you mentioned, the demographics of India currently is a challenge as well as an advantage for the globe. If it can become an impetus for rural connectivity in addition to the regional connectivity, that is the win/win situation for everyone, India and the U.S. --

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thanks Annapoorna, it’s really good to see you here.

I think it already is an impetus. I think there is so much tremendous activity between Indian innovators and U.S. innovators, Indian scientists and U.S. scientists, and Indian and U.S. private sector, and on pioneering and developing clean energy solutions, particularly in the off-grid and micro-grid space. And looking for opportunities to bring these to scale, and opportunities to make them marketable and sustainable.

There are certainly challenges. Challenges on financing, challenges on scaling and sustaining these enterprises. But I think we’re looking at new ways of trying to do that. There’s so much effort that’s going into this space. I was really pleased to be able to highlight some of the work that we’re doing when I was in Bangalore a couple of days ago with Orb Energy and with the Selco Foundation. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s just so many different efforts that we’re supporting or catalyzing or showcasing in different ways that I’m very optimistic that India is actually going to help pave the way in creating that clean energy access vision. Not only here in India, but frankly, helping to transmit and transfer that to other parts of the globe. Thank you.

Audience: Thank you. My name is Nalin Koli. I want to give you some inputs on the small and medium enterprises on both sides.

As a former co-chair of the CII National NSME Council and the Defense SME Committee Chair, we have taken a lot of initiatives and taken delegations to the U.S. and hosted delegations from the U.S.. We feel like we only scratched the surface as far as SMEs are concerned. Particularly in the knowledge industries like IT, biotech, clean technologies and defense.

We also feel that unless we widen this whole scope of industry, government dialogue by including some SMEs on both sides, we are actually, these are the guys who have a lot more opportunities and much less challenges.

What’s happening is you have some big companies on both sides who have already exploited the opportunities, but they talk about challenges. I’m talking about hundreds of small companies whoever a strategic fit with their U.S. counterparts, and we somehow are unable to engage properly.

On the Indian side there’s a federal ministry for small and medium enterprises. On the U.S. side it is actually done more at the state and the county level.

So my request is if you can have an institutional mechanism by which we can engage much more at the SME level.

The second part which I would like to share with you, we actually took some of our SME companies who invested --

Moderator: Sir, we’re very tight on time. Shall we let her answer your first question?

Audience: I think there’s a huge scope on Indian small/medium companies investing and turning around small/medium enterprises, the Chapter 11 enterprises in the U.S., and we need some investor program which facilitates that. Right now there isn’t.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thank you. I’d be happy to take on board both of your recommendations and explore and see what we can do. I know that there have been different fora in which we’ve sought to engage SMEs, particularly as we’ve looked at kind of ways to seed and finance and scale different social businesses that can have enormous impact in addressing some of the gaps, development gaps that we see in India and in other parts of the world, because we think that the private sector, and certainly SMEs are a huge component of this, can drive those solutions.

But I take your point that in the broader business dialogue, in the broader trade dialogue to be able to factor in some of the particular interests and challenges faced by the SME sector. So I think that’s something that I’m happy to take back and explore and see what we can do.

I do want to just again underscore that there is such an enormous and vibrant private sector here in India. The opportunities that I had to look at and work with so many Indian entrepreneurs in my previous job when I was at USAID, really brings me to my conviction that what our two countries can do together to address key challenges, not only in our own countries, but key challenges around the globe. That what we can do together is far far greater than what we can do alone. That guides us and that compels us to push forward, address whatever challenges may come, but keep a firm eye on the vision that we see unfolding and one that inspires us.

So thank you very much for allowing me to share some of those thoughts with you. I look forward to working with you and engaging with you in the years to come. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you very much Assistant Secretary Biswal. We hope that this is one of many future visits and future talks, and we’ll take the temperature of our track toward the half a trillion dollars bilateral trade. Thank you very much.