US sees India as one of its biggest partners, says Kagan

Sakal Times
Friday, 17 May 2019

ST Exclusive
Mumbai-based Consul General of The United States of America, Edgard D Kagan will soon be taking over as Deputy Chief of US Embassy in Delhi. During his visit to Pune, Kagan visited Sakal Times and did an exclusive interview. Kagan travelled from Mumbai to Pune this week on a train; had Indian snacks at railway stations and shared those pictures exclusively with Sakal Times.

What will be your agenda when you take charge as deputy head of the US mission in Delhi?
Kagan:
I will be moving to Delhi, soon after the new government is formed. So there will be a tremendous opportunity to build relationships. There will obviously be some potential for changes. The agenda will be to implement what the American and Indian leaders have wanted -  find ways to bring the two nations together, expand the economic relationship, as well as security cooperation and strengthen people to people ties.

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How do you read the changing policies in India with respect to Goods and Services Tax (GST)? Would there be any attempts to convince the government to make things easier for foreign companies?
Kagan:
We are trying to compete in a tough market. What American companies want is consistency and predictability in policy landscape and implementation. Many American companies have a large presence in India and the trade is growing every year. If we go back to 2001, the trade between US and India was around 20 billion dollars. In 2018, it is over 114 billion dollars. What is interesting is that the increase from 2017 to 2018 was 16 billion dollars. There is a need to maintain a level playing field for Indian and American companies. I think in the long run, what will serve both countries the best is expanding opportunities in both places. We need to import more from India, as well as export more to India. This will benefit Indian consumers as well, as it will bring down prices in 
the Indian market.

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Considering the controversies around the defence purchases in India, what are the challenges and opportunities of India-US cooperation in the defence sector?
Kagan:
From 2006-07 to now, there have been over 15 billion dollars worth of US military sales in India. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a hint of scandal or controversy regarding any of those. US defence sales are very transparent. Indian Armed Forces too are satisfied with these purchases. India is looking towards upgrading its forces and the US has the technology for it. We believe that US technology is good, not just for using, but also for the support and spare parts. We see the opportunity for greater cooperation in the form of joint training for forces. Indian and US forces could also be trained together for disaster relief. 

Regarding the issues of terrorism, there is a feeling in India that the US doesn’t back India as much as it should, especially when it comes to putting pressure on Pakistan. How do you view this?

Kagan: Dealing with terrorism has become a very powerful bond that has brought the two countries together. The issue of Pakistan has always been there. If we see the steps taken by the US in the past few years, India’s concerns have been addressed several times. Only thing is that we have done it for our reasons. However, ultimately we believe that we have served everybody’s interest. But the goal is to work together effectively so that we could reduce the support to terrorism around the world and provide support to countries that face terrorism, like Sri Lanka recently did. No country is safe. What we can do is get as much international cooperation as possible.

For full interview click here

What do you think about growing nationalism across the world? In India it’s called hyper-nationalism, in the US it goes as ‘America first’. How do you view it that the countries have started shutting themselves for external trade in the name of nationalism?
Kagan: We need to distinguish between hype and reality about nationalism. Obviously, there has been a shift in recent years and we acknowledge that. But if you look closely not much has changed for most of the countries. I hear so much about how the US doesn’t want foreigners to come, but it is not true. If you look into numbers, they haven’t moved significantly. We are still welcoming qualified visitors. As far as hyper-nationalism in India is concerned, I feel that Indians have always been proud of their country. So I don’t think it is hyper-nationalism. Ultimately, the benefit of democracy is that people get the opportunity to choose who they want. 

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Also, we see the US almost at loggerheads with China and that is affecting trade across the world. What do you think about that?
Kagan: There are very few countries who do not have concerns about China’s economic behaviour. That doesn’t mean that China is necessarily a huge threat. The US is trying to restore the trade relations with China in a manner beneficial to both sides. The tactics towards that end differ from country to country. We recognise that in the long term if something doesn’t benefit both countries, it will not last. At the same time, we want our concerns to be addressed. Because we do believe that the trade relationship has gone out of balance.

There are many inhibitions amongst Indian when it comes to US visa. How do you wish to address the concerns regarding the H1B programme?
Kagan: There have been very minimal changes to the programme. And we don’t have the final data yet, but the number of issuances from India is more or else the same. Everything that happens in the programme is viewed in India as about India. There is a huge disconnect as in India this programme is about the US. But in America, it is a global programme. It is not a litmus test to its relationship to India. The idea that the number of issuances or visas is going downwards, isn’t supported by facts. The US continues to welcome legitimate students and visitors. I think what we want to see is an increase in travel on both sides.

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What’s your impression about Pune city?
Kagan: I have visited Pune around six to seven times in the past two years. And I really like to come here, I have friends here. Pune is a very pleasant and dynamic place. I am very impressed by the range of industries here, right from the research, manufacturing companies, IT companies and a lot of US companies have offices and significant operations in Pune. Along with manufacturing bases, many companies provide financial services through their back offices here. 

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