Eric Garcetti has arrived in India, thus ending the longest period since the United States has gone without an ambassador to India. Since Ambassador Ken Juster served his last days in January 2021, Roosevelt House in New Delhi had been without an occupant.
Ambassador Garcetti will no doubt hit the ground running and will be soon settling into an Indian summer after making the rounds in Washington. The former mayor’s experience of having been the executive of a large metropolitan like Los Angeles gives him a sharp perspective on the economic issues and prioritising the need to attract investors, all of which play a vital part as we seek to strengthen the commercial relationship.
On a personal front, the incoming ambassador shares a special affinity for India, having visited the country in his youth and having studied Hindi in college. During his time as Mayor, he interacted with Indian officials on matters pertaining to energy, ports, culture, and urbanisation and of course catered to the large diaspora in the Los Angeles metropolitan county.
As Ambassador, Garcetti will have a plate full of US-India engagement on the horizon with the Quad Summit in Australia, India hosting G20 world leaders, and an impending state visit by Prime Minister Modi over the summer.
One of the key aspects is that Garcetti is a well-known confidant of President Biden and this close convivial working relationship will expedite key decisions, which at times in the past could be stuck through layers of formal bureaucracy.
Garcetti’s biggest impact will be to help expedite the wait times as the visa backlog across all categories from working professionals to business visas, tourist, and student visas were severely affected due to the pandemic. The bureaucratic delays have exacerbated the wait times as several people have been unable to secure an appointment across the embassy and consulates in India.
His priorities will be threefold. On the commercial relationship, the US is now India’s largest trading partner, with annual bilateral trade touching near $200 billion. The commercial relationship remains robust with major American manufacturers looking at India for electronic manufacturing as companies seek a China plus-one strategy.
As India works to promote the investment climate and enhance the ease of doing business environment, Garcetti will be a key champion for American industry, creating a win-win situation as the positive tailwinds align in his favour.
On the geopolitical and geo-strategic part, Garcetti will reap the benefits of successive administration efforts, right from the Bush administration to the Civil Nuclear Deal, to the Biden Administration’s push for the inaugural Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET).
Defence has been one of the cornerstones of the US-India strategic partnership and Garcetti understands this well through his former background in the military as a US Navy reserve. The relationship has grown from almost zero sales to $20 billion in defence relationship since the seminal US-India civil nuclear arrangement. The new Ambassador’s top priorities will be to consolidate and build on these defence partnerships as the Indo-Pacific Quad gets momentum and the I2U2 begins to fructify in the same manner.
Furthermore, there is a vital opportunity for both American defence manufacturers as New Delhi seeks to gradually wean away from a dependence on the Russian-era arsenal. The war in Ukraine has galvanised the need to look at consolidating imports from the US, France and Israel, and the effects of the war on Russia’s military will also add to a supply chain issue for India in the long run, should this dependence continue.
The technology industry for decades has provided the US with a global competitive edge, and Silicon Valley continues to epitomise that hub for innovation. The time is ripe to focus on co-development and technology sharing, as iCET has opened this golden avenue. As the race for semiconductors heats up, the US and India can work towards chip manufacturing and focus on shared military technologies through the sale of jet engine technology.
Garcetti will be tasked to carry on the progress we have seen this year from the restart of the US-India Commercial Dialogue and the US-India CEO Forum. The commercial partnership is focused on rebuilding resilient supply chains, both to recover from pandemic losses and preclude a supply chain lacuna.
Furthermore, a stronger and stable supply chain network and a critical technology partnership with the U.S. will make Garcetti’s job easier to bat for American investors. This is the ideal win-win scenario as India seeks to consolidate its domestic and high-tech manufacturing base and American investors will need to be the lion’s share of those investments. Apart from the Trade Policy Forum (TPF), both India and the US underscore their priorities to build a stronger trade relationship through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).
The upcoming G20 in India will touch on pertinent aspects of energy from climate finance to a much-needed shift to cleaner sources of energy and reducing dependency on fossil fuels in the emerging market world. And an impending state visit by Prime Minister Modi later this summer will give both Washington and New Delhi a chance to renew their larger and more specific bilateral goals, and energy collaboration with the strategic clean energy partnership could certainly be one of them.
However, most importantly, the underlying strength of the US-India relationship is epitomised in the people-to-people ties and one that is the secret ingredient of the strategic partnership.
Recent footage of Commerce Secretary Raimondo, partaking in the colourful festival of Holi with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh won the internet.
Increased American engagement with the Indian diaspora will be one of Garcetti’s top priorities, as his predecessor, Ambassador Juster partook in basketball activities as NBA teams made a splash across India.
Given his background in the southern Californian city of Los Angeles, codified as Hollywood central, Garcetti can help build on diaspora cultural linkage through Hollywood and Bollywood initiatives, as the Indian film industry has now garnered mainstream attention on American shores through the many years. Especially after the performance of RRR at the Oscars recently, a win for cultural diplomacy and the arts.
Visas continue to play an important part in ensuring education continuity, with constant student exchanges, and the recovery in the number of Indian students in the United States post the pandemic.
The eminent economist turned diplomat, John Kenneth Galbraith, known for his towering stature, served as President Kennedy’s envoy to India in the early 1960s and perhaps helped build the strong edifice US-India relations sit on today. This was far before, any nuclear deal was signed, or any commercial agreement was penned. In fact, it was during a time when India was rampantly socialist that was juxtaposed with American capitalism. But Galbraith had a deep affinity for the people of India, and saw as early as 1963, the possibility (when many may have seen none), of a US-India strategic partnership, based on shared democratic values and the people to people to relations.
Galbraith set the tone for his successors, eminent personalities such as Chester Bowles, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Tom Pickering and Frank Wisner. Eric Garcetti has an opportunity to add himself to the roster of stalwarts by being empathetic, connecting with the population emotionally, and building a much stronger US-India partnership.
—The author, Dr. Mukesh Aghi, is President & CEO of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF).
New Us Ambassador To India — Eric Garcetti To Pave The Way For A Stronger Partnership (cnbctv18.com)