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Kerry Looks to Strengthen Ties During India Visit

  • Aru Pande

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he boards his plane at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on his way to Doha, June 21, 2013.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he boards his plane at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on his way to Doha, June 21, 2013.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to India next week to head the latest round of strategic dialogue between two of the world's largest democracies.

In a video message to India ahead of his trip, Kerry repeated President Barack Obama’s sentiment that the U.S.-India friendship is one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.

Kerry cited key areas of collaboration that are already taking place between the two countries. “From higher education to clean energy, from counterterrorism to space science, we are seizing new opportunities to work together, and in doing so, we’re increasing the prosperity and security of both our peoples," he said. "The U.S. and India share a strong enduring commitment to Afghanistan’s peace and prosperity.”

The secretary pointed growing bilateral trade, which he said has increased five-fold in the last decade to $86 billion in 2011.

But analysts said the U.S.-Indian relationship is not without its challenges.

While trade has increased in the defense sector, Washington has called for greater access for its goods to the Indian market. For its part, New Delhi wants a friendlier U.S. immigration policy that will make it easier for highly skilled Indian workers to enter the American job market.

Former Indian ambassador and United Nations special envoy S.D. Muni said these issues are not new and must be worked through in order for the relationship to reach a higher level.

“The potential of Indo-US relations depends on all these legitimate concerns to be smoothened and harnessed, because in no way have the India and U.S. reached their full potential. In fact, Indian-Chinese trade is much more than Indo-U.S. trade and U.S.-Chinese trade is huge as compared to Indo-U.S. trade,” stated Muni.

A group of American lawmakers recently joined the National Association of Manufacturers and other U.S. business organizations in urging President Obama to take action against the Indian government for what they said are discriminatory trade practices.

In a letter to Obama, U.S. business groups refer to Indian court rulings, which they say have repeatedly ignored internationally recognized rights, including “denying, breaking, or revoking patents for nearly a dozen lifesaving medications.”

The Indian Supreme Court in April rejected pharmaceutical company Novartis’ attempt to patent a new version of a cancer drug - a landmark decision that allows Indian companies to continue making cheaper, generic versions of the medication.

Bharat Karnad with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research said the issue will likely come up during next week’s strategic dialogue. “The problem is, of course, the Indian court's ruling that in terms of life-saving drugs and medicines that the patent laws can be breached, because that is more important," he said. "[The court found] it’s more important to save lives than to ensure profits for American pharmaceutical concerns [companies]. That is a difficult issue, and I am not sure what the resolution is considering the stance that the Indian courts have taken.”

Karnad said the U.S. and India should focus on the bigger picture - and collaborate closely as both nations look to increase influence and investment in the Asia-Pacific.

The pivot towards Asia is one of the Obama administration’s key foreign policy initiatives, and India, for many years, has also had a “look East” policy. Karnad recalls former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said during a 2011 visit to India that the South Asian nation should not just look East, but “engage East and act East.”

“If India were to do that and firm up its security cooperation with the Southeast Asian nations, with Taiwan, the Philippines and all those other countries, Vietnam in particular, and have the larger overarching structural link-ups with United States, Japan and the far-east -- then you have a very viable security architecture,” stated Karnad.

Kerry on Sunday travels from Doha to New Delhi, where he will give a policy speech. He chairs the fourth annual strategic dialogue and holds talks with Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid before heading to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

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