Remarks by Ambassador Richard Verma at the USIBC Annual Legal Meet and Gala Dinner

(As Prepared for Delivery)


Good evening and thank you very much for the invitation to speak with you today.  I am honored to share the dais with Secretary Malhotra, Dr. Bhasin, and other distinguished members of the legal profession. It is truly a pleasure to join you this evening to discuss the importance of the law in attracting greater investment.

The U.S.-India relationship matters now more than ever before.  There is a great deal of excitement in the partnership.  We just concluded a very exciting fall, when Washington played host to the first ever Strategic and Commercial Dialogue between our countries, which advanced our objectives at the highest levels on important issues like innovation and entrepreneurship, infrastructure and Smart Cities, and promoting a business climate that facilitates increased two-way trade and investment.  Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and President Obama, our governments are working together on increased engagement and new initiatives to reach a two-way trade goal of $500 billion in the years to come.

To add to the excitement, Prime Minister Modi visited New York City again and had some incredible meetings in Silicon Valley.  In fact, you might have seen the Facebook town hall that Mark Zuckerberg hosted for him.  The Prime Minister saw first-hand the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that built and drives Silicon Valley, much of it driven by Indian-Americans.  And just two weeks ago, we wrapped up the ninth U.S.- India Trade Policy Forum, where we took stock of the progress achieved in deepening our bilateral trade and investment ties and discussed engagement for 2016 that can promote economic growth and job creation in both India and the United States.  Needless to say, we’ve been busy!

We have made significant progress over the past year and look forward to even greater strides going forward.  But the reality is we couldn’t make the progress we need to make without all of you, your expertise, and specifically your commitment to advancing the understanding, effectiveness and availability of the law for businesses, for individuals and for governments, both here and in the U.S.

Importance of a Strong Legal System in the U.S.-India Relationship

Strong legal systems are a vital part of the U.S.-India relationship.  In fact, one of the fundamental aspects of our “natural partnership” stems from the fact that we are constitutional democracies who share an unwavering commitment to the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes.   In my time here as Ambassador, I’ve met many outstanding Indian lawyers, young, and well… not so young… and I’ve come to know that this homegrown legal talent is one of the key ingredients in what draws our two countries together in so many ways.

In our defense and security relationship, we are joined in common cause that disputes should be resolved peacefully, pursuant to the rule of law and international norms.  Both our militaries are overseen by civilians.  We both respect the will of international law and tribunals of which we are members.  Indeed, in the landmark U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region signed earlier this year, both of our countries committed to upholding the rules-based international order, not just in our two countries, but across the Asia-Pacific.  Indeed, the law can be a force for peace and greater stability, especially when the world’s two largest democracies join together to uphold and promote shared values and rights.
India has, in fact, been a leader in upholding and defending international law.  One need only consider India’s leadership in promoting regional norms by respecting the July 2014 ruling under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea that delimited the maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal, in Bangladesh’s favor.  India also recently resolved outstanding land border claims with Bangladesh through negotiation of a bilateral agreement, again demonstrating a deep respect for rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

In our economic and trade relationship, we sometimes do battle with each other at the WTO or in complex arbitrations, but we both know, when the final decision is reached and appeals have been exhausted, we respect those judgments and move forward.  It is this commitment to be governed by laws, and not the whims or subjective decision-making of individuals that allows our two economic systems to become even more integrated.  Transparent, fair, predictable, efficient commercial legal systems will help propel our investment and trade relations even further in the years ahead.  That’s why we have been so supportive of launching real and detailed negotiations on a Bilateral Investment Treaty.  We hope that comes to fruition in 2016.
Similarly, in civil nuclear cooperation, India’s commitment to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation was an important factor that helped break the deadlock over liability in the event of an accident.

I am also aware that the Indian Government is working to make India a hub for global arbitration and dispute resolution services. This vision is certainly possible, given that many of India’s neighbors look to the country for leadership.  We are keen to work with India on making this vision of leadership in global arbitration and dispute resolution a reality, and we would also like to collaborate on ways to open the legal sector that will enhance the relationship between our countries.

Can we do more together to greater harmonize and enhance our legal systems?  Of course, we can.  For example, in the family law arena, we believe it is important for India to ratify the Hague Convention governing international parental child abduction in order to ensure families in both our countries can utilize the court system to unify, and not divide, families.  Moreover, with regard to IP, a robust intellectual property regime, as well as dedicated commercial courts, will not only protect innovators and investors alike, but will lead to greater confidence and trade flows here in India.
We can always do more in a range of other areas, but the good news is that as two large constitutional democracies, with independent branches of government, a federal structure and bi-cameral legislatures, we have far more in common than what may divide us.  The respect for the rule of law will always be a unifying force between our two nations.

Liberalization of the Legal Services Sector

I do want to talk for a minute about one other critical area, and that is the liberalization of the legal services market here in India.  I met recently with both the Bar Council of India and the Society of India Law Firms, and know that both these organizations indicate a willingness to take steps toward liberalizing the rules for the provision of legal services in India.  I also am aware of the long-standing and productive collaboration between the American Bar Association and the Society of Indian Law Firms, and I want to commend Dr. Bhasin on his untiring efforts to expand that relationship.
In my view, liberalizing the legal services sector would be mutually beneficial for both countries.

A more open legal service sector would bring increased cross-border investment opportunities for both countries.  Law firms that have a presence in the U.S. and in India will be able to more easily advise their clients as they make important decisions on key investment matters.  As India is the fourth-fastest growing source of FDI into the United States, Indian firms could also benefit by having more cohesive legal teams to advise them as they plan to open or expand operations in our nation.

Some have questioned whether the U.S. legal system has true reciprocity with foreign attorneys in the context of these discussions on liberalization.  The fact is that no state requires American citizenship in order to practice law in the United States.  Now, not all states’ bars are reciprocal with one another, which means an attorney may be required to pass the bar of more than one state.  But this requirement is agnostic to citizenship: Americans and non-Americans alike are subject to the same requirements.  Having passed the bar in Pennsylvania I can certainly sympathize with those who consider this to be an onerous task, but the fact remains that all lawyers that practice in the United States, regardless of citizenship, are offered the same set of standards.

There are several opportunities for us to work together with the legal community here in order to progress the discussions around liberalization.  For example, the American Bar Association has a longstanding relationship with the Society of Indian Law Firms, and I am pleased that the next ABA delegation to India plans to be here in February.  Members of the Bar Council of India and relevant industry and government representatives could similarly be invited to visit the United States to meet with their counterparts on specific state bars as well as with the ABA, and I hope this is something we can help develop.  These visits are important opportunities for Indian and American attorneys to exchange best practices and better acquaint themselves with the cultural norms of doing business in each other’s countries.  Advances in educational accreditation is another area in which we can work together.  If more U.S. educational institutions could apply for accreditation by the Bar Council of India, it would allow students that graduate from these accredited institutions to practice law in India.

And finally, during the recent visit by the U.S. Commercial Law Development Program to India, our team held substantive discussions regarding key legal issues like bankruptcy, insolvency and contract enforcement.  These detailed conversations regarding shared experiences especially with the judiciary, will help bring our best legal minds together in the future to combat a range of pressing commercial and strategic issues.  We should encourage more of this collaboration, just as you are doing here today.


This conference highlights continued efforts to strengthen our bilateral relationship and I want to applaud USIBC and its members for their continuing engagement, including organizing today’s event.  As we look to strengthen and expand the trade relationship between India and the United States in a highly competitive global economy, the issues raised during meetings like this one will be critical for both us to achieve our goals.  As India continues to modernize its economy to compete on a global scale, you will continue to have a willing partner in the United States.  Thank you very much.