Remarks by Amb. Verma at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

I want to thank Dr. Hamre and my friends at CSIS for welcoming me here this morning. Thanks to Rick Rossow for helping to organize this event and for his leadership on U.S. – India issues over the years – we have all benefited from his insights and scholarship.

This May marked one year since Prime Minister Modi rose to power in the largest election in history. This anniversary has generated a lot of commentary about the progress India has made over the last year, and the challenges that remain. Today, I want to talk about what we in the Embassy have seen, and why we are optimistic about the opportunities for an ever stronger partnership in the years to come.

The last time I was in Washington, I shared my concept of a “strategic plus” relationship between the U.S. and India, which reflects an enhanced commitment to our shared interests. This “strategic plus” relationship has blossomed in the last year, highlighted by the two Obama-Modi summits. The roots of this relationship go much deeper, however. They grow from the diaspora community, which stretches back to farmers from the Punjab who came to work the Californian soil in the 1800s, to help build railroads and work in lumber mills. They were strengthened by the thousands of scientists and doctors who traveled to the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s, bringing our research and academic communities more closely together. These roots are invigorated by the steady stream of technology and business leaders who continue to enrich both of our countries through their bold innovations.

Like millions of fellow Americans, my family tree is also rooted in this diaspora community. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Jalandhar, in the state of Punjab, where my parents are from. I returned to the home of my grandmother, where I spent a summer as a young boy. I visited the girls’ school where my grandmother taught, and talked to people who knew her. I also had the humbling honor of giving a commencement speech at the same university that my father graduated from, sixty-four years ago. I spoke to the new graduates about our shared history, and about the vast opportunities available to them in this “India on the rise” – a place where transformational leaders can and do have a real impact.

The roots of the “strategic plus” relationship did not sprout overnight, but go back generations. Similarly, our relationship is not defined only by a handful of singular achievements over the past decade. Yes, there have been headline-catching breakthroughs, but our relationship is built on more than just bold proclamations and high-level visits and it transcends any one individual or party. It is built on continual, incremental progress. On gaining trust. On engaging in open discussions about difficult issues. It is built on strong and growing people-to-people relationships, where students, innovators, and family ties stitch our countries together in a constant exchange of ideas. It is built on the dialogue that takes place every day between our governments, in which we are working closely together to achieve the joint vision set forth by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi. Most importantly, I believe our relationship is built to last because it is rooted deeply in our shared cultural values, democratic systems, and common commitment to regional and global stability.

India’s Foreign Policy

In foreign policy India has been on the move. In the past year the Prime Minister has reached out not just to the United States, but has visited over 18 countries and 33 cities. He is signaling that India will be a player on the global stage for years to come and we welcome and support that global leadership role – politically, economically and in global institutions.

Within the region, he has reached out to leaders from Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. He successfully finalized a historic land boundary agreement, which he will sign during his upcoming visit to Bangladesh. There have been visits to Mauritius and the Seychelles, demonstrating that India wants to play an active role in the Indian Ocean. We have also been heartened and grateful for the leadership India has shown in the face of recent crises. India’s response to the devastating earthquake in Nepal has been remarkable. When disaster struck, India spared no time in mobilizing its sophisticated crisis management mechanisms, providing crucial support to a neighbor in need. In a similar gesture, India rushed to provide fresh water assistance to the Maldives when its water treatment facility ceased operating.

India displayed leadership beyond regional boundaries. In Yemen, India organized land and sea evacuations of civilians that included nationals from all over the world, including the United States and Pakistan. Both in Yemen and Nepal, we were thrilled to see the Indian Air Force using its U.S.-made C-17s and C-130s in support of its humanitarian assistance.

As part of its “Act East” agenda, India has strengthened ties with Asian powers. The Prime Minister has been working closely with Prime Minister Abe in recognition of India’s shared interests with Japan, visited Australia, and made a historic trip to Fiji. India assigned its first permanent Ambassador to ASEAN this year and during his visit to China, Prime Minister Modi was able to strike a balanced tone between enhancing cooperation and seeking to resolve outstanding issues.

And, of course, the U.S. and India are partnering more closely than ever before. We are tracking 77 different initiatives that came out of the January Obama-Modi Summit, in fields that range from defense cooperation to health and renewable energy. Our collaboration is broad-based and global in nature. Our doctors and health experts are working together with African medical communities to fight HIV/AIDS. The Joint Strategic Vision on the Indo-Pacific region we announced during the President’s visit outlined ways our two nations can come together in the region to further the prospects for greater prosperity, peace, and stability. Our two democracies are demonstrating how the region can work collaboratively towards a better future, based on respect for a rules-based order and the peaceful resolution of disputes. As the Prime Minister recently said, it’s not just what the U.S. and India can do for each other, but what we can do for the world.

The Prime Minister has also reached out to the Indian community overseas. In cities like New York, Toronto, and Sydney, he has spoken to packed arenas, encouraging the diaspora to become active in India’s development and promoting India’s influence in the world. He has met with business leaders, looking for new partners in his quest to modernize India’s economy. These leaders will be crucial to India’s domestic agenda, as there are high expectations for a renewed focus on economic growth.

Make in India and Defense Cooperation

There are also opportunities for U.S. industry in several of the initiatives set forth by the government. For example, India has prioritized developing its domestic manufacturing sector through the “Make in India” program. Many of the ideas we’re discussing under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, or DTTI, are an excellent fit with this initiative. Through DTTI, the U.S. and Indian defense communities are collaborating on development and production of new technologies. DTTI signifies our commitment to modernizing India’s military forces while promoting economic growth, both in the U.S. and in India. DTTI is a special focus of Defense Secretary Carter, who just completed a trip to India. This was his fourth trip to India while in government and he became the first American Secretary of Defense to visit an Indian operational military command – Eastern Naval Command in Vizag. Secretary Carter, along with Defense Minister Parrikar, signed a new ten year Defense Framework Agreement and finalized the first two project agreements under DTTI to develop a mobile battlefield power system and next generation chemical protection suit. As Secretary Carter stated; “These projects are intended to blaze a trail for things to come.”

I’m particularly excited about the Aircraft Carrier Working Group, designed to support India’s own efforts to build its naval aviation and blue water capabilities. I recently joined a contingent of Indian Naval officers on a fly-out to the USS Carl Vinson. Standing on the flight deck, listening to officers from the U.S. and Indian navies, I was struck by the high level of interest on both sides in the possibility of collaboration. The visit was a glimpse into the future of what’s possible between our two navies.

Reflecting this interest, the DTTI Aircraft Carrier Working Group is off to a fast start. Later this month, the U.S. contingent will host a team from India to visit a U.S. aircraft carrier and conduct the group’s inaugural meeting. Ultimately, the aim is to identify specific areas for technology cooperation.

Economic Growth

Of course, the success of the “Make in India” initiative will hinge, in large part, on India’s economic and investment climate. In 2014, the World Bank ranked India 142 out of 189 countries in its “Ease of Doing Business” index. Recognizing that it needs to do better, the Prime Minister has announced that he would like to see India ranked among the top 50. We have seen some concrete steps towards that goal.

In April, the Indian Cabinet approved legislation to establish commercial courts, which could dramatically reduce delays in resolving business disputes. The government has also taken steps to streamline its services through various e-governance initiatives.

We are also working hard to assess the prospects for moving forward with a high-standard bilateral investment treaty (BIT). A high-standard BIT would further enhance investor confidence and send an important signal to U.S. investors, especially infrastructure investors, that India is open for business. Ultimately though, the direction of the economy is one for India to decide, but I sense there is recognition among many that if India is going to realize its goals for “Make in India,” it needs to adopt an attitude of encouraging foreign investment, not just permitting it. This will take not just welcoming words but decisive actions, in a range of areas, including on tax, IP and regulatory streamlining.

But another reason for optimism is the cooperative federalism and encouragement of states to compete for investment. I think we’re seeing an increasing “race to the top” among Indian states to attract investment, including FDI, which will be good for India and for our relationship as well. Just last month, senior representatives from both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were in the U.S. on road shows to promote their respective states as investment destinations. Google has announced it will build its largest campus outside of the U.S. in Telangana, a strong sign of that state’s efforts to promote itself as an investment destination. We encourage more such efforts. We are also actively encouraging Indian investment and job creation in the United States. India recently brought 82 companies to the Commerce Department’s Select USA Summit.

This leads to another area we are all tracking closely: bilateral trade. We are pleased that our trade in goods and services has finally crossed that elusive $100 billion dollar threshold, and stands at approximately $103 billion. We have a long way to go to reach our goal of $500 billion set by the President, but we think it is achievable. We recently restarted our Trade Policy Forum, which is bringing together Indian and American trade experts to address concerns across a variety of sectors. On intellectual property, a technical team of Indian experts will visit Washington for further discussions on how to improve IP protections. We continue to look for ways to enhance the environment for innovation in a way that promotes our shared interests.

Through the State Department’s Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor (IPEC) initiative, we are also supporting greater regional economic connectivity between India and its neighbors, complimenting Prime Minister Modi’s “Act East” policy. Through programs aimed at enhancing energy cooperation, building closer people-to-people ties, stimulating trade facilitation and transportation and easing customs and borders, IPEC seeks to strengthen links among South Asian countries and with Southeast Asia.

Climate and Renewable Energy

Economic growth is important, but sustainable development is imperative. Both countries recognize that meeting energy needs in a sustainable manner is one of the most important challenges of the 21st century. The development of cleaner and more efficient energy technologies will contribute significantly to improving air quality, addressing climate change, and protecting the global environment. As leaders of the new high tech economy, our countries can achieve robust economic growth while protecting the environment.

India has set ambitious goals for clean energy development, and aims to sharply increase its renewable capacity to 175 gigawatts by 2022, largely through harnessing solar and wind power. Under our clean energy cooperation programs, we have already mobilized more than $2.4 billion in clean energy projects in India, and have major plans to further expand our efforts. American firms have a big role to play, from supplying equipment to financing specific projects.

As we look ahead to the coming months, climate change will be a central focus for us in the lead up to the climate talks in Paris in December. India’s participation is crucial for any global climate agreement to meaningfully address the challenge we face. We look forward to an ambitious and transparent plan on reducing emissions.

India has signaled its commitment towards combatting climate change by recently agreeing to discuss the phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons. Reducing the production and consumption of these “super greenhouse gases” through the Montreal Protocol is a significant and pragmatic step in the right direction.

Air quality has been another big concern facing us in New Delhi. The Global Burden of Disease study, considered the gold standard in global epidemiology, shows air pollution as the fifth greatest factor for premature death in India, claiming 630,000 lives a year. Tackling air pollution is good not only for our lungs, but is also part of a wider strategy to address climate concerns. In the past few months, I have seen both the Indian press and government officials pay more attention to the effects of air pollution on health and safety. In March, Indian officials welcomed a delegation from the EPA to discuss urban air quality. This is a partnership area where we can use what we’ve learned over the past several decades of combatting air pollution in U.S. cities to address a challenge with global implications.

Tackling Challenges of Urbanization

Developing strategies for cleaner air is one of the many ways we’re working with our Indian partners to improve urban landscapes. Prime Minister Modi has recognized that urban India is due for an overhaul, which presents special challenges for development, and many opportunities for collaboration. We are committed to working with India to transform its cities into healthy and safe spaces that provide high-quality services and economic opportunity.

The 100 Smart Cities Initiative has captured the popular imagination in both India and the United States. We are using a whole-of-mission approach to develop smart city projects in three cities: Vizag, Ajmer, and Allahabad. Smart Cities are not destinations but are part of a process; they are about continuous collaboration among public and private stakeholders to improve the quality of life for urban dwellers. We are connecting U.S. firms with opportunities that match the priorities set forth by central and local governments. Finance is a key challenge for this initiative, so we are also using our convening power to enlist the support of finance agencies such as EXIM and OPIC, along with the Asian Development Bank.

We’re focusing on using technology and global best practices to deliver smart city solutions that are cost effective, scalable, and replicable. This includes providing GIS data to help Allahabad connect more of its sewer lines to water treatment plants; helping the desert city of Ajmer recharge critical water reservoirs; mapping fresh groundwater resources to help farmers in Vizag recover from severe storms.

Smarter cities are also cleaner, healthier cities. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation services has serious consequences for many urban communities. To tackle this issue, USAID is working with the Ministry of Urban Development and other private partners to support the Prime Minister’s “Swach Bharat” Clean India Campaign. We aim to bring the leadership, talent, and resources of the public and private sectors together to generate solutions to India’s water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges.

In Bangalore, for example, USAID is working with the city administration and WaterHealth India to provide over 32,000 households with clean drinking water. We are taking a similar collaborative approach to promoting health initiatives. USAID is partnering with the Government of India, the private sector, and civil society to launch a national “Call to Action” movement to end TB in India. American scientists from the CDC and other agencies are working with government officials, NGOs, and researchers on improving labs and training the public health workforce, so we are better prepared for outbreaks like the Ebola pandemic. In this era of connectivity, these systems promote health abroad and at home.

As with economic reform in general, progress on all of these initiatives will be incremental. But we are seeing the Indian bureaucracy do more than just lay foundation stones. They are being proactive in their engagement and discussions with not just us, but other partners as well. If we keep this up, we will see many of these ideas become realities.


In closing, we have our work cut out for us. There are many additional initiatives we could discuss and I’m happy to address these during the Q&A. But generally speaking, I feel it’s an exciting time to be in New Delhi. During my first six months, I have seen a real commitment by our Indian partners to carry out a bold vision for an India on the rise. To be sure, there will be challenges, but there is also a renewed sense of possibility and there is perseverance. I continue to believe we are on a path to increased cooperation across all sectors and becoming India’s “best partner” as President Obama called for in January.