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Address by Ambassador Meera Shankar at the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs - "INDIA AND THE UNITED STATES - STRATEGIC PARTNERS" on September 15, 2010

Baltimore, MD

I am honoured to have this opportunity this evening to meet the members of the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs.  This city has been witness to crucial events in the history of the United States, one of which has a link to India also.  I am told that Francis Scott Key, wrote the Star Spangled Banner, while on board the ship HMS Minden - a ship built by a dockyard in Mumbai, India.  Today, as a flourishing port city, Baltimore is part of the great networks of trade and commerce which straddle the world.

 The Indian economy itself has been undergoing a remarkable transformation since the reforms of 1991 which deregulated the economy, internally, while liberalising trade and investment policies.  Over the past decade, India has been one of the fastest growing major economies in the world and in recent years had reached a growth trajectory of 8-9% a year.  Though this growth slowed down a little in the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis, our economy has rebounded.  After dipping to 6.7% in 2008, growth this year is expected to be in the region of 8.5%.  The key national priority for India is to sustain a high growth path of 8 to 10% over the next decade and beyond and to ensure that this growth is inclusive and benefits all sections of our people.  Already one of the world's largest economies in terms of purchasing power parity, sustained growth will catapult India to one of the three or four largest global economies in the early half of this century.  Moving a billion people towards greater prosperity, lifting those that remain in poverty, developing the human capacities and physical infrastructure to power this growth - and all this within the framework of a robust and vigorous democracy characterized by enormous diversity, makes this ongoing process of transformation in India unique, exciting and of broader relevance for the world.

 This transformation is also changing the way India interacts with the world.  Growing trade and investment link India more closely with countries across the world than before.  India's stakes in a global and regional environment of peace, stability and broader prosperity have never been higher.  The vital contribution that it can make in addressing key global challenges is increasingly recognised.  And India sees the United States as a key partner in this process, not only in building peace and stability, but also in fulfilling India's development goals and aspirations.

 When we look to the future of India-U.S. relations, we derive enormous confidence from the very significant ground that we have covered in the relationship, especially over the past decade, during which our political engagement has strengthened significantly, our strategic understanding has deepened and our cooperation has expanded into new frontiers.  The strength of ties between the governments has been nourished by the vitality of private partnerships and the warmth of ties between our peoples.  It is a relationship which has been invigorated by broad political support and has met the test of public goodwill in both countries.

 Our relationship rests on the solid bedrock of shared democratic values, respect for fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, pluralism, openness and a sense of enterprise.  It is also based on our increasingly convergent interests.

 The centre of global challenges and opportunities is shifting rapidly to the Asia-Pacific region.  Asian economic surge is increasingly anchoring global economic growth and opportunities.  The region is undergoing rapid changes and throwing up new challenges of reconciling historical differences with growing interdependence.  India has always been conscious of its Asian identity, of its location at the strategic cross-roads of Asia.  The future of the Asian region is vital for India's own future.  We share with the United States an interest in security and stability in a rapidly changing Asia which reduces the risk of conflict and enhances opportunities for peaceful advancement.

 In our immediate neighbourhood, our Prime Minister's vision is that the linked fortunes and destinies of South Asian countries cast on us the responsibility to build a collective future of shared prosperity and peace by resolving our differences, connecting our people, opening our markets and celebrating our common heritage.  South Asia will have a profound impact on the future of Asian, indeed global prosperity and stability.  It is home to a significant part of the global population and continues to face a wide range of political, economic and social challenges.  India has a vital stake in stemming and reversing the tide of violent extremism in our neighbourhood and in building greater peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It is our desire to build a relationship with Pakistan defined by the power of cooperation rather than the perils of conflict.  This is why we are seeking to re-engage in dialogue, though concerns on terrorism emanating from across our border remain and need to be addressed. 

 Despite our own challenges, we continue to provide economic assistance to our neighbours, including Afghanistan.  We have provided assistance of nearly $1.4 billion to Afghanistan across a wide range of infrastructure projects, human resource development, community assets and rural development.  Afghans consistently rate India as the best development partner.  India will continue to support Afghans in developing the capacities to assume greater responsibility for their development and governance.
 
 We have regular and candid dialogue with the United States on Afghanistan and Pakistan; we exchange views and coordinate approaches on other developments in South Asia; we now increasingly talk about the wider Asian region and have commenced a dialogue on East Asia; we also discuss how we can facilitate development in Africa.  Beyond the political dialogue, India and the United States have wide ranging bilateral mechanisms for consultations that have brought a broad range of people into closer engagement and opened the doors for new possibilities of cooperation, creating a constantly expanding base for the participation.

 Out bilateral cooperation has entered new territories and explored new frontiers.  Our counter-terrorism cooperation has acquired new momentum after Mumbai and we have a new framework to strengthen our engagement focusing on intelligence and information sharing, sharing of experience and capacity building.  Our militaries, once unfamiliar with each other, now hold regular dialogue and exercises, coordinate anti-piracy efforts and have worked together on humanitarian missions.  Our defence trade was negligible a decade ago; in the last few years we placed orders worth over US $ 4 billion and it could grow even further as India seeks to diversify sources of supply and develop its defence production capabilities through greater private sector participation. 

 The India-US nuclear agreement, signed in October, 2008 not only removed a major problem that had shadowed and constrained bilateral relations but created a basis for deeper economic ties and a more productive partnership on energy security, lessening reliance on fossil fuel and combating proliferation.  We have also in a mutual sign of confidence, expanded our cooperation in space with India’s Moon orbiter, Chandrayaan I, carrying a U.S. experimental payload which helped to identify water on the moon.  There are good prospects for expanding this cooperation in the areas of space exploration, space flight and exchange of data for weather prediction and climate trends. Further adjustment of the framework for bilateral cooperation in high technologies should truly reflect our strategic partnership.

 In the larger Asian and global context, both the US and India have an interest in protecting the global commons – maritime, cyber and space domains.  Free flow of information and trade across these commons is vital for both our economies.  We need to also create appropriate norms for cyberspace to ensure that the freedom and anonymity provided by these pathways are not misused.

 Economic ties are robust and growing.  India-US trade doubled between 2004 and 2008 with US exports to India growing three times during this period.  Trade, including trade in services, is broadly balanced.  While the US is the largest source of foreign investment in India, Indian direct investment into the US has been growing rapidly and, on the basis of annual flows, exceeds US foreign direct investment in India. Between 2004 and 2009 Indian companies invested over $ 5.5 billion in greenfield ventures in the United States and over 20 billion dollars in mergers and acquisitions, helping to generate wealth and jobs in the US. Beyond the statistics is the fact that because India-US economic ties have been knowledge, technology and people intensive, they have had a profound impact on the relationship that goes beyond the business sector. 

As we look to the future we hope first to substantially expand our economic ties and help create jobs and prosperity in both countries.  In part this will be driven by global economic recovery and the relative health and competitiveness of the Indian and US economies.  But we also recognize that the two governments, working in partnership with the private sector, can create conditions that raise our economic ties to a new level.  The Indian economy will continue to be a huge opportunity, whether it is increasing power generating capacity five-fold in the next 20 years or connecting India with itself and the rest of the world or providing a wide range of services to the burgeoning urban dwellers and farm dependent rural population.  Our investments in infrastructure alone over the next decade would require an investment of a trillion dollars.  It is important in this context not to allow the voices of protectionism to constrain the potential for positive engagement and for both countries to benefit from the enormous opportunities that lie ahead. 

 As social and economic development is a key focus area for us in India, developmental cooperation has become an important focus of our strategic partnership.  Issues such as agriculture, energy, education and health have a direct impact on the lives of common people.  In India for instance, people still remember fondly and with gratitude the contributions made by the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, who helped usher the first Green Revolution in India in the 1960s that enabled us to increase our food grain production and to become self-sufficient.  Today we are working together with the US to revive the spirit that animated our cooperation and resulted in the Green Revolution.  We have agreed to establish working groups in diverse areas related to agriculture which should help us increase productivity and also contribute towards regional and global food security. 

 Energy is another new emerging area of cooperation.  Both our countries face similar challenges of dependence on energy imports and fossil fuels and we both recognize the importance of addressing the challenge of climate change.  For India, sustainable development is a necessity.  Our long-term perspective plan on energy and our ambitious National Action Plan on Climate Change seek to increase the share of clean and renewable energy in our energy mix, increase energy efficiency across the economy and expand our forest cover.  We have launched a National Solar Mission and are committed to establish a strong manufacturing base in this field.  In November 2009 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Obama launched a Clean Energy and Climate Change Initiative to advance cooperation in clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency.  We are working together to ensure speedy implementation of its various provisions including of establishing a Joint Research Centre on clean energies.

 India is blessed with a young population, 50% of whom are below the age of 25 years.  If India is to benefit from this ‘demographic dividend’ we need to ensure that this population is educated and has the requisite skills to contribute positively to the economy.  Education has an important role in empowering and transforming the lives of our people.  We hope to partner with the excellent US university system as we expand and reform our educational sector. Educational exchanges have contributed to strengthening our linkages and fostering greater collaboration in science and technology.  There are at least 100,000 students from India who study in US universities today.   As we in India move into higher gear with our educational reforms and towards a knowledge and innovation economy, there is an opportunity for us to enhance our ongoing academic exchanges and research collaboration.  The spirit of innovation and intellectual quest would help us chart new frontiers in our relationship.  The Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative, the Nehru-Fullbright fellowship programme and the India-US Science and Technology Endowment will serve as catalysts for this purpose.
 
 There is thus today a very broad canvas before us to strengthen our strategic partnership.  Both our governments are committed to build on the excellent foundations that we have created to fulfill our common objective of creating a partnership that not only benefits the people of both countries, but also responds to the global challenges of our times. 

 Now, as yet another major milestone in our rapidly transforming strategic partnership, we keenly look forward to the visit of President Obama in November this year.  The State visit of our Prime Minister last year focused on going beyond just the bilateral dimensions of this relationship to forge a global partnership.  We hope that President Obama’s upcoming visit would prove to be a major step forward in not only consolidating what our two democracies have jointly achieved but also for working together in areas where we are yet to see concrete progress, including genuine reform of international institutions  with India given its due place.  The growing support for a permanent seat for India in the UN Security Council would no doubt go a long way in enabling India to play its role to its full potential and in realizing the idea of India-US relations being a key strategic partnership of the 21st century.