Warner urges US, India to tackle trade, investment issues

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Wednesday urged the U.S. and India to tackle a slew of trade and investment issues early in the new leadership's tenure. 

Warner, who is co-chairman of the Senate India Caucus, said the longtime allies need to take a “tempered view” and grab two or three wins on policy issues “so that this relationship, which is so critical to both countries, can get a reset and a restart.”

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The U.S. and India have a "real opportunity" to renew their relationship following elections there, he said at a breakfast meeting sponsored by The Weekly Standard.

Newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ran on a platform to accelerate India’s economic growth, has set a 100-day challenge for his ministers to lay out their goals and reforms.

Modi has put forth 10 priorities as a guide to his team.

“The notion of the first 100 days is well borne out in American politics,” Warner said.

Many business groups have complained that U.S. and Indian relations have suffered in past couple of years because of issues such as the theft of intellectual property as well as restrictions put into place by the Indian government requiring more domestic-based content for imports.

In plotting a path forward, Warner said "we need to focus on accomplishments, rather than a rehash of problems that have come about.”

"This is one of the most important strategic relationships this country has."

Warner emphasized that improving the relationship will take effort from both nations, outlining several quick-hit steps that can be taken independently and jointly to reinvigorate it.

He suggested that India can look at changing its defense procurement procedures that would allow U.S. investment in other areas of high priority for India such as education, skills development or manufacturing.

Warner said that little has happened with a U.S.-Indian agreement for skills development at community colleges, mostly because of red tape on India's side.

Also, India could take a "dramatically important step" and lift some of the foreign direct investment caps, which he said would provide a strong signal to the U.S. and the international community that India is open for business.

Warner said allowing direct payment to subsistence-level farmers would jump-start its agricultural sector and eliminate some of the corruption.

On the U.S. front, he urged President Obama to nominate a new ambassador who reflects the importance of the U.S.-India relationship and  "demonstrates the amount of high respect we hold for India."

"It's long overdue for someone to be chosen," he said. 

He also called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to name someone to lead the defense trade technology initiative, which would help U.S. defense firms break into the market. That position has been vacant since December.

Warner suggested that the U.S. conduct a review of visa policies that could help with business and tourism.

"This is the kind of thing we could clean up quickly.” 

Working together, Warner suggested that the two nations could announce a joint energy project that would provide "lots and lots of opportunities" and the "collaboration should be low-hanging fruit."

He said it is also time to convene a meeting of U.S. India Strategic Dialogue, which would be an early opportunity to show that the governments are willing to work together.

Plus, India could open its doors to more U.S. investment in roads, water and highway systems. 

Warner also said that the governments should elevate the Bilateral Investment Treaty talks by setting some specific timelines.

In addition, he urged a relaunch of the Defense Policy Group.

“We have an incredible opportunity here," Warner said. "We have a new prime minister with a lot of energy who has generated enormous enthusiasm within the Indian population.

"He clearly has charged his ministers with a bold agenda. It really is incumbent upon us and the United States to meet that bold agenda."

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