Obama's big plans for India: What to expect?

As US President Barack Obama heads into his legacy-shaping second term in office, assumptions, expectations and suggestions abound about what his administration could mean for India with which he professes to have enduring ties.

Given the bipartisan support and evolving "strategic partnership" between the two democracies, India barely figured during the election campaign. Outsourcing and visas were mentioned but as a glancing reference as part of the poll rhetoric.

Obama has said India figures "big" in his plans, but it is not clear how and in what way he would direct US policy towards India in the next four years. A host of experts and US-based think tanks have suggested a "to-do" list as he prepares to announce his policy priorities in the inauguration address Monday and the State of the Union address next month.

Some observers believe "pragmatic" Obama's second term would not differ radically from the first and US-India relations would be deepened with some new initiatives.

Others say factors like the discovery of shale oil and gas providing the US with a strategic boost will influence its global relations and there could be a redefining of the notions of engagement. Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already spoken about the new means of diplomacy, what she called "smart power" that includes trade, technology and private investment, to advance US interests.

And change has been a recurring motif with Obama as evidenced in the slogans of "the change we believe in" in 2008 and "forward" in 2012. It is believed that the president would be thinking of his legacy as previous re-elected presidents had pursued international initiatives. It is therefore natural to expect some new issues and priorities that will shape US relations with the world and India.

One such issue is global trade. The year 2013 is going to be quite an important year since 2001, when the Doha Round was launched and China joined the World Trade Organisation. By the end of this year, new WTO negotiations would begin on liberalising trade in services such as consulting, banking and insurance, and on expanding the 1996 Information Technology Agreement that eliminated tariffs on trade in devices like memory chips. These talks are likely to produce the biggest negotiated liberalisation of trade since the Uruguay Round of early 1990s.

At the same time, negotiations could be completed on the first trans-Pacific free trade agreement and started on a trans-Atlantic deal between the US and the EU.

India had a glimpse of US trade agenda earlier this month when Mike Froman, an Obama administration adviser and possibly the new US Trade Representative (USTR), said the world has "turned the page" on Doha and indicated that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be pushed as an alternative.

According to Froman, major emerging countries like India and Brazil want to maintain their developing country status and do not want to open their markets. Froman has also charged India with blocking a trade facilitation agreement on infrastructure at ports and custom stations.

The US and other developed countries have also begun pushing for "early harvest" agreements - the plurilateral or select group agreements on goods and services - ahead of the next WTO ministerial meet at Bali in December as the Doha Round is stalled.

The Obama administration has also signalled it would be push forward the New Silk Road concept mooted by Clinton -- an international infrastructure network that would remove barriers to flow of goods and people among countries of South Asia.

Robert D. Hormats, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment, has spoken of an Indo-Pacific Corridor that would reach out to Southeast Asia, making the region a hub of global trade.

There is a strategic angle to this. Following the pullout from Iraq, and planned drawdown of troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and China's growing assertiveness in East and South China sea, Obama has been reorienting US policy towards Asia-Pacific.

Some believe the US interest in making India an anchor country for regional economic cooperation is aimed at gaining New Delhi's support for facilitating its exit from Afghanistan. Hormat has indicated that success of Afghanistan would depend on the level of regional cooperation.

The US has made a "bet" on India and would perhaps shape the context in which India would take its decisions. In Obama's first term, joint initiatives in areas like energy and healthcare were launched. In the second, both countries could collaborate on maritime and cyber security.

However, it is felt that the Obama administration has failed to develop a sustained policy helping India achieve its economic and security goals. Obama has belied Indian hopes of US pushing reforms at the IMF and World Bank that would give its voice greater weightage on international fora. And a renewed move for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would only create more strain.

(Saroj Mohanty is a senior journalist with IANS. The views expressed are his own. He can be contacted at saroj.m@ians.in)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

On-field action set to divert from off-field drama

On-field action set to divert from off-field drama

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

He was aggrieved by the allegations against him during the hearing. More »

There's a lot going on, I won't lie: Stephen Fleming

There's a lot going on, I won't lie: Stephen Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Michael Klinger has revealed he felt compelled to leave South Australia after being told he would be only a fringe part of the Redbacks' plans for next season, and disputed the suggestion that he left… More »

India: cricket's Brazil

India: cricket's Brazil

They are tough to beat with a big talent base exposed to good facilities. (CYCSPL) More »

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Franchises are doing their bit to refurbish the image of the tainted league. More »

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

The revival of Indo-Pak Test ties could take place in UAE. More »

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

'This time around we will hope to go few more steps ahead and actually get that trophy' More »

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Apart from the foreign players a lot of behind-the-scene activity has taken place in selecting the Indian domestic players. More »

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Leading Spanish club Atletico Madrid and former cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are among the owners of eight franchises of a new Indian… More »

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

Kiwi all-rounder wants to utilise the India leg to explore the country’s tourist attractions. More »

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Says his mother made him change his mind. More »

Pietersen’s ‘little’ secret is out

Pietersen’s ‘little’ secret is out

A fractured little finger could now throw the Delhi Daredevils captain out of action at the start of this season. More »

Supreme Court says no to BCCI’s request

Supreme Court says no to BCCI’s request

Bench refuses to grant access to recordings of Srini and Dhoni’s depositions before Mudgal committee. More »

SMA Trophy gets short-changed

SMA Trophy gets short-changed

Key players are away preparing for the IPL, taking the shine off the other domestic T20 fixture. (CYCSPL) More »

IPL’s credibility needs rebuilding

IPL’s credibility needs rebuilding

Players, coaches, team management and franchises would do well to realise that the seventh edition of the IPL is under intense scrutiny and credibility… More »