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Opening Remarks by External Affairs Minister at the Opening Plenary during the Second India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD) in New Delhi (August 30, 2016)

August 30, 2016

Honourable John Kerry, Secretary of State,
Ms. Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce,
My colleague, Minister Nirmala Sitharaman,
Co-chairs of India-US CEO Forum, Mr. Cyrus Mistry & Mr. Dave Cote,

Distinguished delegates,

I am delighted to welcome you all to New Delhi for the second Strategic and Commercial Dialogue between India and the United States of America. I hope you have had a pleasant stay so far.

We attach high importance to this mechanism which enables us to review the entire gamut of our relationship and develop greater synergy and coherence in our engagements across the spectrum.

We began our engagement this afternoon with separate meetings between the Foreign and Commerce Ministers of the two sides. I had good discussion with Secretary Kerry covering key bilateral and regional issues. We have now convened for the Plenary Session which will be followed by parallel meetings of the Strategic and Commercial Tracks.

Our meeting takes place in the backdrop of significantly increased intensity of bilateral engagement. Since our last meeting, our Prime Minister has visited the US three times and met with President Obama several times. The June Summit has charted an ambitious agenda for bilateral relations, whose implementation is our joint task.

There has been frequent political-level interaction throughout the year. Even as we speak, our Minister of Defence is on his second visit to the United States in less than a year, making this year the second in a row that both Defence Ministers have exchanged visits in a calendar year. This is unprecedented.

The Economic and Financial Partnership Initiative at the level of Finance Ministers met earlier this year. Our Home Minister is planning to visit US shortly for the Homeland Security Dialogue.

Some of the new dialogue mechanisms that we announced at our last meeting have already met, including the High-level Consultations, Policy Planning Dialogue and the Track 1.5 Cyber Dialogue. Others, like the bilateral Oceans Dialogue, are also in the planning.

In accordance with the roadmap for the Joint Strategic Vision, we have launched a Maritime Security Dialogue. Our Trilateral with Japan has moved from dialogue into action in exciting areas of regional connectivity and HA/DR.

In view of the rapidly evolving regional and global situation, we look forward to resuming the meeting of the Trilateral with Afghanistan; consultations on Africa and on multilateral issues within this year. Recently, we successfully launched the first UN Peacekeeping Course for African partners in New Delhi. This is an apt symbol of our partnership for peace, security and development in the wider world.

Our two countries share the same democratic ethos of freedom, equality, pluralism and rule of law. India’s enhanced global role is in our mutual interest. It is in this context, we look forward to continue working closely with the US to secure our membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

We want to take our expanding defence cooperation to the next stage of co-production and co-development. For this, we need to define the benefits associated with India's designation as a 'Major Defence Partner' of the US during Prime Minister's visit in June. This would spur defence industry collaboration between India and the US and help India play the desired role as a net provider of security in the region.

We have taken some steps to strengthen our cooperation in the area of Counter-Terrorism as envisaged in the Joint Declaration issued during the last meeting of this mechanism.

There is scope to do a lot more. This would be an important element of our deliberations todayIt is heartening to note that we have been able to conclude a Framework for the India-US Cyber Relationship, the first of its kind both for India and the US, with any other country.

Our leaders had worked closely together to ensure successful conclusion of the Paris Agreement. India’s commitment for implementation of the Paris Agreement is firm and we are taking steps domestically to compress the timeline for our ratification of the Agreement. We hope that the next U.S. Administration will continue to support the Paris Agreement with the same seriousness and purpose as you have done, and that the goal of mobilizing US$100 billion per year from developed countries, will be met with firm support from the U.S. government.

Our partnership in clean energy has received fresh impetus through launch of several initiatives that are aimed at facilitating clean energy investments from US into India. We need to significantly strengthen our collaboration in this area on a scale that will make it viable for us to make quantum transition to renewable energy away from fossil fuel, and achieve our ambitious climate goals.

I would also urge the United States to join the International Solar Alliance as an active member, which will be critical to its success.

Our citizens are studying, living and earning their livelihood in each other's countries, like never before. More than a million of our citizens are travelling in both directions every year, many of whom, we hope, will benefit from early implementation of the U.S. Global Entry Program for Indian nationals.

The issue of totalization and recent fee hike for H1B and L1 visa has affected our people-to-people exchanges, which is a vital source of strength for our relationship. I am sure these issues will be deliberated in depth in the commercial track of our discussion. But I would urge you to find a just and non-discriminatory solution to these issues.

Science and technology cooperation has created exciting opportunities. The Joint Commission Meeting next month will allow our Ministers to discuss them in more detail. India will take part in the Arctic Science Ministerial being hosted by the White House as well as in Our Ocean Conference that you are hosting next month.

Today, Indian and American scientists are engaged in jointly funded research, from atoms to space, combining India's talent with American infrastructure, and transforming lives of millions around the world. I am happy that both sides have decided to explore scaling up of funds for the bilateral Indo-US Science & Technology Forum (IUSSTF).

We would request your support in early conclusion of Engineers and Scientists Exchange Programme (ESEP) Agreement.

Indian and American health professionals have come together to eradicate pandemics and conduct research. We would like to develop our cooperation in the area of traditional medicine.

American satellites have been successfully launched on Indian launch vehicles this summer, at a great reduction of cost. We would request for positive consideration to our request for policy measure to allow launch of commercial U.S. satellites on board Indian vessels.

As our colleagues from the two Commerce Ministries and the business community will no doubt reflect, trade and investment has continued to grow, and more opportunities are opening after the additional reforms that the Government of India took recently.

As India unveils transformative economic programmes at home --- be it Smart cities, Make in India, Digital India or renewable energy --- the potential for doing business has never looked more appealing. We see the US as an indispensible partner in achieving these goals.

And this is why we need strategic direction and enhanced oversight on our economic and commercial engagement: to make sure aspirations and interests of our businesses get high-level attention; to guarantee that our commercial relations do not remain transactional; and to foster better appreciation for the strategic priorities of our economic policies.

It is with that vision that I hope that you will treat the issue of India's membership of the APEC Forum positively. This has as much strategic significance as it has commercial potential.

Our leaders will see each other again in a few days from now, in China and in Laos. My colleagues and I look forward to productive discussion this afternoon to review the wide canvass of our relations and present our assessment to our leaders.

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