Event ReportsPublished on Sep 03, 2015
At a conference on 'Building Pan Asian Connectivity' in Kolkata, US Ambassador to India Richard Verma has said the Asia policy of the United States and India's Act East policy can work in complementary ways to increase regional trade and growth.
US, India policies can work towards upping regional trade and growth: US envoy

The US Ambassador to India, Mr. Richard Verma, has said the Asia policy of the United States and India’s Act East policy can work in complementary ways to increase regional trade and growth.

Delivering the special address at the two-day conference on ’Building Pan Asian Connectivity’ in Kolkata on March 10 & 11, the Ambassador said "both President Obama and Prime Minister Modi are keenly aware that the U.S.-India relationship is destined to be a force for regional and global change."

The conference, a collaborative effort by Observer Research Foundation, Center on American and Global Security, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA, and the U.S Consulate in Kolkata, witnessed intensive and in-depth deliberations on the issue of connectivity throughout Asia focusing on security, trade and environment.

The Ambassador discussed how the US and India can work in complementary ways to increase regional trade and growth. Fostering these connections through physical infrastructure, regulatory trade, architecture, and human and digital connectivity can create linkages all the way from Central Asia to Southeast Asia, via South Asia.

The Ambassador specified three specific challenges pertaining to connectivity: 1) inclusive economic growth, 2) good governance, and 3) climate change.

The Government of India and the U.S. Agency for International Development ( USAID) are finalising an agreement to establish a public private partnership with key U.S., Indian, and international organisations to support the Government of India’s effort to create an inclusive digital economy, he said.

The Ambassador said the U.S wants to foster inclusive energy cooperation that lights more cities and villages, cutting edge airports to link the various major cities of South and Southeast Asia.It also wants to remove the trade impediments, build landports and seaports and utilize its advanced digital technology and increase global competitiveness.

The first business session of the conference focused on the factors that play a role in the security framework in the region. The session attempted to understand the various challenges that hinder efforts towards integrating the Asian region politically and physically.Attention was drawn to the fact that the core interests of Indian policy making should be connectivity, trade, energy, institutions, security cooperation and humanitarian efforts. Some ground has been covered in terms of joint training programmes, sharing of knowledge, joint efforts in tackling customs, immigration, crimes, through track 1.5 and 2 initiatives between India and ASEAN countries. In this session, the uniqueness of Northeast India which forms an integral part of the regional architecture that the Look East Policy has attempted to achieve through the years was underscored. Security and geo-political challenges confronting connectivity were highlighted in the context of fundamental infrastructural developments that are desperately needed. The role of China in security concerns of the region such as the latter’s involvement in arms supplies to rebel outfits was noted. The prospects and long term impact of India’s Act East Policy would depend as well, it was argued, on the country’s internal developments and its implementation of the ’Make in India’ drive.

The theme of the second session was ’trade’. In terms of economic integration, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has potential to become the largest free trade agreement (FTA) in the world, it was discussed. However, India has been restricted in its trade negotiations primarily because of its defensive posture in the agriculture sector. The deliberations also focused on bilateral agreements and the prospects of the Motor Vehicles Agreement. The concept of institutional connectivity and its significance in boosting regional integration was debated along with the need for harmonization of transport, trade and travel, related regulations, and the inclusion of services. Free trade agreements, regional comprehensive economic partnerships and single window customs can help erase hurdles and facilitate trade. Physical connectivity links like trilateral highway and MIEC will also help in seamless trade. Trade between India and ASEAN countries has indeed increased but what is important to understand is that bilateral trade between the countries has not increased at equal pace. Emphasis was placed on increase of financing infrastructure, stronger institutional agreement and cross border corridors. Concerns related to non-tariff barriers also featured in the discussion.

The third and final business session on ’environment’ saw valuable inputs from the panel on global climate change and its immediate impact on South Asia. Concerns were raised about shifting periodicity of monsoon in this region and the accompanying impact that it has on agriculture. Also, the urgent need for the carbon reduction in South Asia was highlighted. The role of Citizen Activism in the process as an urgent social need and the monitoring of problems of environmental laws in South Asia were also raised. As far as matters of water sharing or power generation are concerned, they should be done with an inclusive approach that integrates a variety of views and opinions, it was pointed out.

The conference highlighted the development of the Indo-Pacific economic corridor along with the affirmation that the United States of America will remain a strong and steady partner to build and strengthen connectivity in the Pan-Asian countries. In the context of regionally led endeavours which are essential in order to build Pan-Asian connectivity, India’s key role as an anchor of South Asia in order to build connectivity was emphasized.

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