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US, India Hope for Cooperation on Global Trade, Climate Change

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World trade and climate change are the two most prominent issues at the summit talks in Pittsburgh Thursday and Friday of the G-20, the influential group that brings together key members of the developing world and the big economic powers. Agreements on trade and global warming have been out of reach so far, at least in part because of differences between the United States and India. But rapidly improving relations between New Delhi and Washington makes future progress on those issues seem more possible.

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Washington in November, he will be the first foreign head of government to make a state visit to the United States since President Barack Obama's inauguration.

Analysts and U.S. officials agree, the Obama administration sees India not only as an emerging economic power, but also as a strategic partner to the U.S. on difficult issues such as a new global trade agreement.

"Whereas even a few years ago, when such cooperation was almost unimaginable, today the United States and India have an increasingly positive dialogue on nuclear non-proliferation, climate change and global trade," said Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake.

Climate change and global trade are two issues on which India and the United States have had serious differences in the past.

Last month India called trade ministers to a meeting in New Delhi about the stalled global trade dialogue, and they agreed that an agreement must be complete by 2010.

India's ambassador to Washington, Meera Shankar, says India had a genuine concern.

"There are important concerns which the Indian companies have about the growing protectionist trends within the U.S. and the use of non-tariff barriers, including various standards to keep out goods from the developing countries," she said. "So I think this is a two-way process."

India is also trying to work with the U.S. on how to deal with proposed limits on "greenhouse gas" emissions, one of the major barriers to a new world climate-change treaty coming up at international talks in Copenhagen this December.

The U.S. wants India and others to agree to strict limits on carbon-dioxide emissions, but India refuses to accept terms that would endanger its rapid economic growth.

"India has to grow its energy basket [supply] anywhere between five to seven times in the next 20 years," she added. "In such a scenario an absolute reduction in emissions may become very challenging, and perhaps almost impossible."

U.S. diplomat Blake says the goal is not to limit India's growth, but to help it develop.

The U.S., he says, wants to work with India on clean energy technology and help make it a world leader in sustainable development.

"Through USAID assistance, clean coal technology projects and practices in Indian coal-fired power plants have reduced carbon emissions by over 90 million tons over the past eight years," he added.

Because of progress like this, Blake says he is hopeful that the strategic partnership between India and the United States will remove barriers to global accords on trade and climate change.

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