The US and India have strengthened their ties in a number of key areas like defence, counter-terrorism, trade and energy over the years and would continue to take the cooperation to "new heights", a top American diplomat has said.
The US sees India as a strategic partner, "leading power" and what former prime minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee correctly called "natural allies" in the Indo-Pacific region, US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster said, describing the country as a potential regional trade hub for American businesses.
"US-India relationship today is as broad, complex and rich in substance as any bilateral relationship in the world. It encompasses the entire spectrum of issues in international affairs," Juster, who was the keynote speaker at the 20th annual gala of Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH), said.
Texas imported USD 3.6 billion worth of goods from India while exported USD 5.1 billion in goods to India, he said, adding the state accounts for over 15 per cent of all US exports to India.
The US fully appreciates India's growing energy needs and look forward to helping meet those needs with US energy products, he said.
"Indian companies are expanding business in the US and Texas has been a prime beneficiary. For example, JSW Steel is investing USD 500 million in nearby Baytown to refurbish and expand a steel plant.
"Wipro and Infosys have opened technology centers in Texas and Mahindra's headquarters is in Houston. These Indian investments create jobs in this country, provide quality products to our consumers and contribute to our economy," Juster said, adding that the US-India strategic relationship is strong and on an upward trajectory.
Juster said that four strategic challenges India may face over the next decade - managing the rise of China; dealing with terrorism; promoting economic growth and modernising the military.
A number of US companies have reported "increasing difficulties" in conducting business in China. Accordingly, some companies are downgrading their operations there, while others are looking with great interest at alternative markets.
"India can seize the strategic opportunity - through trade and investment - to become an alternative hub for the US business in the Indo-Pacific region," he said.
Mentioning the Sri Lanka and the Pulwama attacks, he said: "Recently the US and India convened a meeting in Washington DC of our Counterterrorism Joint Working Group, which sketched out next steps in our bilateral cooperation. We led efforts at the UN to successfully designate Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
"Eliminating the scourge of terrorism is a key challenge for a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and one on which we will continue to work closely with India," Juster said.
A major part of Juster's speech was on ways to enhance economic and commercial relations. However, he did not mince words while underlining that the US is concerned about the persistent trade deficits with India.
"US-India bilateral trade is over USD 140 billion, the increase in total trade in goods and services in 2018 was almost USD 16 billion," he said.
No country in the world has more advanced technology than the US and the STA-1 license exception opens the door for India to access that technology, he said.
"There are frictions and frustrations on the trade and investment fronts like limited market access for certain US goods and services, high tariffs, restrictions on the free flow of data and an unpredictable regulatory environment for investors.
"We are working with the Government of India to try to resolve these trade and investment issues, in order to fulfil the potential of our economic relationship and promote India's long-term growth," Juster said.
Resolving these concern and eschewing protectionist policies will send a powerful signal to US stakeholders as well as investors around the world that India is a world-class destination for commercial activities and an alternative business hub to China, the ambassador said.
"India is projected to spend as much as USD 150 billion on military modernisation over the next decade. India will find no better technology and defence partner than the US, should it decide to invest some of those resources in US equipment.
"Over the last 20 years, India has procured top-of-the-line US military equipment... This has contributed to India's military capabilities, while demonstrating the reliability of the US as a defence partner," he said.
Because of transparency associated with the US defense exports, there has never been any scandal associated with any of these procurements, he said.
The US companies are also increasingly working with the Indian partners to manufacture defence equipment in India, which builds out India's indigenous capabilities and projects a message of strength, the envoy said.
"We look forward to working with the new Indian government as we plan for the next 2+2 ministerial this fall. As we work with India on security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, we will continue to emphasise our belief that the US offers the best and most advanced defence equipment in the world.
"We also have the software and integrated networks needed for national defence. Our military-to-military cooperation and defence agreements with India, including the landmark COMCASA agreement, are increasing interoperability between our forces and ensuring that best-in-class US software and systems are available to India," Juster added.