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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary in Washington (March 03, 2017)

March 04, 2017

Speaker 1: Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to this press briefing. I will now invite Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar to deliver his opening remarks.

Foreign Secretary of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Good evening. As you know Commerce Secretary and I have been here for the last few days on a visit to engage the incoming administration. We had a number of meetings with senior administration members including with Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, Homeland Security Secretary, John F. Kelly, National Security Advisor H R McMaster as well as the Deputy Assistant to the President Ken Juster.

We also had meetings with other senior members of the Congress even as we engage with the administration to determine their priorities and understand their thinking and explain ours. The Congress has been concerned and they have been extraordinarily supportive of growth of this relationship and since the change in political landscape we thought engaging them was also something which is very important.

We had meetings with the Speaker Mr. Paul Ryan as well as Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. We have met with the Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Corker and House Committee Chairman Ed Royce as well as the Caucus leader Senator Warner and members of the House of Representatives

During our stay we have also interacted with American business through the US-India Business Council and I think Commerce Secretary had some additional meetings specific with businesses active on the India and US both.

I would say that in our meeting with the administration we broadly explained the progress that India-US relations have made in the last many years. It was a very full spectrum discussion. Obviously with different secretaries the focus of the discussion was little different because in each phase it was relevant to their department.

With Secretary Tillerson, the discussion was on a range of international and regional issues like from Aisa Pacific, South Asia, and Middle East etc. With Secretary Ross it was more focused on bilateral trade and economic cooperation and with Homeland Security, to some extent issues related to immigration and also the welfare of the American Indian community and Indian community in States.

Overall the sense was that administration has a very positive view of the relations and a very positive view of India. I think it is natural when a new administration comes in they take the stock of the progress made, set new targets, obviously have bigger updations for going forward. I think that was largely the exercise that we were undertaking. We saw a lot of good will, a lot of interest in taking this relationship forward and similarly a very strong sense of support from the members of Congress.

We will be returning tomorrow but we feel overall that it has been a very productive visit, it certainly has conveyed to the administration the importance of this relationship and the focus on the steps that we would be taking to take it further. With that I would like to end my opening remarks. If there are questions we would both be happy to answer them. Thank you.

Question from India Abroad: One of the concerns that was there early on here with the new administration was that unlike the earlier Republican and Democratic administration were mutual suspects and India has used the revolving door. This was a new administration with new people but then you have got people like Wilbur Ross who has been a member of India-US Business Council. All I know that they have hedge fund on India also and then you have people like Ken Juster, the protagonist behind NSS etc. Does that give you a lot of optimism in terms of both the strategic partnership and commercial dialogue and was there discussion on issues like H1B etc. which probably are going to be some of the ticklish issues that will come across. Just that this could be transactional as opposed to earlier administration?

Foreign Secretary of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar: If I would reduce your remarks to three sharp questions, one, whether we have a sense of optimism, two, the strategic and commercial dialogue and three, did we discuss the H1B issue.

Number one, yes, we have a strong sense of optimism and I think the Trump administration has a very strong sense of optimism about the relationship. You mentioned Secretary Wilbur Ross, I think his own business experience with India has been very positive and what we felt actually across the board in the administration, whether it was business or whether it was security and defence cooperation, whether it was our engagement in the region or working together on international issues, overall it was a very positive sense of India as a partner.

Also there was a lot of respect for the economic changes that have taken place in India. There was this acknowledgement that we have made very robust growth and this made India a very attractive partner.

On the S&CD, we discussed both with Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Ross and on behalf of our respected minsters we invited them to come to India at an early date and both of them accepted the invitation and we will work out the schedule.

On the H1B visa, this certainly came up in a number of meetings. It came up with administration, with both Secretary Ross and Secretary Kelly. It came on all our Congressional meetings and essentially what we conveyed was that the H1B was a category of trade and services which actually helps the American economy to be more competitive and if the Trump administration intention is to bring back American companies to America and attract more foreign investment in America, in the near term then it would be important that the growing America remain competitive.

So there will be a growing need for this partnership. I think that was a point which was registered, that H1B in many ways is an economic issue, a trade business issue.Of course, in the US context, it is seen as part of an immigration basket but what I would remind you that the President himself in his address to the Congress referred to merit based approach to the subject. We heard across the board a lot of respect expressed for Indian skills or Indians in the United States. We have certainly made our point quite forcefully both in the Congress and the administration and believe that it was met with a degree of understanding.

Commerce Secretary of India, Ms. Rita Teaotia: Just as Foreign Secretary summed up, in every interaction there was a sense that there is a recognition of contribution of the Indian tech sector. Most of the issues are quite different nevertheless when this is addressed it would be part of the overall immigration package.

Question from Times of India: Foreign Secretary would you characterize the relationship now as a continuation of the previous Obama administration or is it a new package altogether, what is the sense that you got?

Foreign Secretary of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Well, I think every time when there is a change in administration there are new set of players, new thinking, a different way of looking at the world, so clearly there are changes. There are changes in how United States is approaching America leave alone how it is approaching the world. At the same time you are not starting from scratch, you have a foundation where the previous administration left off.

If you look at the last three administrations, each one was significantly different from the others and yet India-US relations with each administration actually grew to a higher level. I would say that today there was a lot of confidence and sense that this is a good relationship that the administration has inherited.

India is seen as a very good and solid economic partner, a country with which there are very strong security and foreign policy convergences but at the same time given the fact that the Trump administration looks at the world differently from its predecessors, we need to absorb that and adapt to it and look at new possibilities of cooperation but certainly the sense was that they would like to do more with India.

Question: Mr. Foreign Secretary, do you detect a change in this administration’s policy towards China and Pakistan?

Foreign Secretary of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar: I would characterize our discussions this way. Obviously a lot of it was India-US focused rather than other countries but we did discuss the global strategic landscape and exchanged ideas. In a sense we are the continuity part of this relationship. In meetings with the Secretary of State, with the National Security Advisor we discussed the Asia Pacific, we discussed Afghanistan, we discussed the challenge of terrorism. So these issues did come up but as to what their own policies would be vis-à-vis these countries would be, I think that is not for me to comment, that is something which they need to answer.

Question: In your opening remarks you said that you found that there would be new targets and new ambitions. Would you like to talk a little bit about new targets and ambitions in the relationship?

Foreign Secretary of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar: I would put them in two broad baskets. The political, security and defence cooperation where we certainly got the impression that the current administration was envisaging expanding their discussions working with us in a number of areas but at this time a lot of this was conceptual. When we have ministerial visits then people would be dealing in greater detail.

In the economic basket, certainly what was saw was a very strong interest in growing our trade and increasing investments and finding various ways of cooperating with each other. The overall impression that we had from all the discussions is that it is a good relationship with good foundations and with people with whom we are very comfortable and want to do more. I think that would be roughly the way I would describe it. I don’t know if Commerce Secretary would like add more to it.

Commerce Secretary of India, Ms. Rita Teaotia: In terms of the plans that President Trump has spoken about for this economy, I think those represent an opportunity for our businesses in terms of infrastructure, in terms of the reform process that is being envisaged. Our investment into the United States and this is an investment which is coming in the manufacturing and services space, has been growing and it expands across the sectors of Chemicals, Pharmaceutical, not just the IT sector.

There is a large range of companies who are already invested in the United States and we think that the trigger to economy is going to create more opportunities. At the same time we felt through all the interactions that there is an appreciation of the acceleration of reforms in India. A lot of interest on the impact of GST when it rolls out and the outcomes in terms of ease of doing business that people are beginning to see already and some of the American companies who have invested in India are seeing very accelerated growth rates, so there was an appreciation of that.

And perhaps if you see the Trade Policy Statement and the report attached with it, there is a recognition that our trade has grown over these years, something like 9 percent and that the reform process that India has not put in place including things like the IPR policy, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, all these are known measures that give a sense of comfort to investors. So we felt that there is a lot of potential to increase both trade and investment between both the countries.

Question from PTI: US administration has been talking about doing away with multilateral agreements and approaching India with bilateral trade agreement. Were any discussions held on that?

Commerce Secretary of India, Ms. Rita Teaotia: There were no specific suggestion of a trade agreement with India and I think that at this moment the focus of the administration would be on the immediate neighborhood i.e. NAFTA and that has been so stated. So at this point of time, no such suggestion and we will see where that goes.

Question Contd. : Any mention of Harley Davidson?

Commerce Secretary of India, Ms. Rita Teaotia: Yes, there was a mention of Harley Davidson certainly and it was just an enquiry and we too are informed that Harley Davidson has set up its own plant in India already and this is their first plant in Asia and they service of much of Asia from this place. At this point I don’t think it is really an issue for Harley Davidson in India.

Question: Number one, any message for the Indian American community because there have been several attacks? Second, part a, if India was ready for the surprise victory of President Trump and what is the future of Make in India of Prime Minister Modi Ji and President said Hire American, Buy American.

Foreign Secretary of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar: I would answer the first question. It is a very tragic event which took place in Kansas, which obviously featured in many of our discussions. What we heard from very high levels, cabinet levels, was that one, we should regard this as an act of an individual, two, the American justice system was at work to bring the perpetrator of this act to justice. It is being prosecuted as a hate crime. What we have seen in the last few days whether it has been the White House Statement or President’s own reference when he spoke to the Congress or what the Speaker said after we met or the fact that the House of Representatives observed a moment of silence.

From almost everybody that we met and perhaps also the people whose responsibility did not directly deal with this, we heard expressions of deep sorrow, deep regret and a sense that we should really treat this as an individual act and the American system, American society as a whole was very much against it. This was our take away on the first issue.

On the other issue, frankly I don’t see a contradiction because obviously every country would like to take steps would be in the best interest of their economy and the way global economy works is that countries reconcile those interests, either bilaterally or regionally or multilaterally or through an international trading system. Again I would say that if there is more robust growth in America I am unable to see how it can be of detriment to India in fact it can offer opportunities here.

We heard both sense of appreciation today that American companies are investing more strongly in India and there are some very powerful figures there as well as an invitation for Indian companies to come and invest out here. So I think on the economic front it was a very positive and constructive conversation.

Speaker 1: Thank you sir, thank you Ma'am. With that this press briefing comes to an end.

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