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Address by Ambassador Nirupama Rao at the Rice University on "A perspective on India-US global strategic partnership"

(10 November 2011)

Mr. David  W. Leebron, President of the Rice University,

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you this evening and to share with you my views on the India-US global strategic partnership.

It is my first visit to Houston as Ambassador of India to the United States and it is a privilege that my first official engagement here is at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University - one of the finest seats of learning and of the imparting of knowledge in the United States, with distinctive competencies in a wide spectrum of areas ranging from the Smalley Institute of Nanotechnology to the Shepherd School of Music.

Collaboration in the field of higher education between our two countries is a strategic area of our cooperation and the first India-US Higher Education Summit held in Washington DC last month has set forth a compelling road map for our joint efforts. I am happy to learn that the Rice University has expanded its collaboration with higher education institutions in India such as the Indian Institutes of Technology in recent years.  Besides the exchange of visits by faculty between Rice University and these institutions, Rice undergraduates have also been going to India for summer internships in the last few years. A sizeable number (more than 140) of students at the Rice University are from India, making them the second largest international student representation on the Rice campus.  The former President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam visited Rice in 2007 and again in August, 2011 and interacted with students and faculty. I thank the leadership of the Rice University for their interest and support in deepening mutual collaboration with Indian academic institutions. 

If I were to describe the state of India-US relations today, I would say that they are today better than they have been at any time before. Through the visionary foresight of the political leadership in both our countries, of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and before him Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and here in the US of Presidents Clinton, Bush and now President Obama, we have been able to cover significant ground in the last decade. Our political engagement has strengthened significantly, our strategic understanding has deepened and our cooperation has expanded across new frontiers based on our increasingly convergent interests. We have built up a truly multi-faceted partnership and are increasingly working together across a spectrum of activities that touch almost every aspect of human endeavour – from developmental issues such as education, health, agriculture and energy, and for our common peace, stability and security. 

We have established a Strategic Dialogue in 2009 which has identified five principal areas for expanding cooperation: strategic cooperation, energy and climate change; education and development, economy, trade and agriculture, science and technology, health and innovation.  And increasingly we are now cooperating to address the major challenges that face our world. Our strong government to government links are supported by vibrant ties between our peoples and businesses, and the active contribution of Indian American community, many of whom I see today represented in the audience and which adds further vitality and resilience to our partnership.

As India seeks to realize its destiny in the framework of an open, pluralistic, inclusive and democratic society that respects and protects fundamental human freedoms we regard the United States as an important partner.

The Indian economy has undergone a remarkable transformation since the reform  process was initiated in 1991 and over the past two decades, we have been the second fastest growing major economy in the world, and in recent years, we have reached an annual growth trajectory of 8-9%. This growth has been largely driven by domestic demand and financed by domestic savings. The steady growth of the Indian economy has not only helped improve the living standards of our people, but has also led to our deepening integration with the global economy. For instance, just in the past five years, our imports have increased nearly four times; and, foreign direct investment nearly seven times. This has created immense opportunities for us to expand our mutually beneficial ties with the United States including in areas that are of importance to the United States as well - areas such as trade and investment, science and technology, clean energy, health, higher education and agriculture.

Here in Houston one such obvious area of cooperation is energy. Just to give you an example – presently our electricity consumption per capita is about 600 kilowatt hour per person per year; whereas in the US it is about 14000 kilowatt hour per person per year. Indeed our present electricity consumption is less than one fourth of the world’s average. So it is obvious that we will have to significantly increase our overall energy production if we are to achieve the development outcomes that we have set for ourselves. So, India is attempting to increase its conventional energy sources on the one hand and on the other we have charted an ambitious plan to increase the share of new and renewable sources of energy in our energy production and portfolio. In this endeavour we are also looking at international partnerships. And, so it is not a surprise that almost all the major energy companies that are based here have set up offices in India and are working with Indian companies to meet our growing energy requirements and to fuel our journey on a high growth trajectory. This includes the traditional oil and gas industry and also new areas such as shale gas. In recent years, companies in other sectors have also set up operations in India – for example, BMC Software has nearly 1400 personnel at its facility at Pune in Maharashtra.

Apart from ensuring abundant supplies of clean sources of energy, we also need to invest in building a world class infrastructure that caters to the demands of a billion plus population. Our economy would need more than US $ one trillion of investment in developing this infrastructure over the next decade. Not all of this investment can be funded by government alone and we are increasingly looking to US companies to build mutually beneficial ties.

Overall, our trade and economic relations have seen tremendous expansion. Just in the last five years, our trade doubled and US exports to India grew three times. Two-way trade in goods continues to grow steadily reaching about US$ 49 billion last year. In the much scrutinized services trade, we have a balanced and growing trade in both directions. The US businesses are becoming strong partners in India’s economic growth story. Today, the US is not only one of our leading trade partners, it is also the leading source of foreign investment.

But it is not just a one way street. The US companies have enhanced their innovative drive and competitiveness through their operations in India which have proved to be highly profitable. And increasingly Indian businesses are creating value, wealth and jobs in the United States. In fact, on the basis of annual flows, these now exceed US foreign direct investment into India. In 2007-08 alone, an estimated US$ 10.25 billion were invested by Indian companies in the US, which, according to industry estimates, helped to create an additional 65,000 jobs in this country. This trend is expected to continue as Indian companies increasingly seek to position themselves in the global economy.

While the pace of growth in trade and investment has been gratifying, overall levels are still modest and there is huge untapped potential for continuing rapid economic expansion as the Indian economy achieves sustained high growth. Trade and economic relations, I am convinced, will continue to be one of the central drivers of the India-US partnership.

Even while we have been able to achieve an impressive economic growth in recent years, we remain acutely aware of the enormous development challenges that confront us. We need to improve our agricultural productivity, build more schools and institutions in higher education, skill development, and strengthen our health infrastructure. In all these facets of development, we are supplementing domestic efforts through cooperation with international partners the foremost of which is the United States.

More than half of India’s population still depends on agriculture for its livelihood. While the Green Revolution that was ushered in India in the late 1960s, with the great contribution of Dr. Norman Borlaug helped make us self-sufficient in production of food grains, we do need another such revolution to improve our agricultural productivity and consequently rural incomes. We are therefore working together with the US to do just that - using space technology for better monsoon prediction and crop productivity to improve the linkages from farm to market. And, going beyond the bilateral dimension, we are collaborating together on projects in the area of agriculture in Africa to ensure that our planet can develop the resources to feed itself.

Health is yet another critical area where there are exciting opportunities for collaboration tapping into each other’s comparative advantages through initiatives such as the Global Disease Detection Center which will facilitate preparedness against health hazards.

History has taught us that peace, security and prosperity are indivisible. Therefore as we work together to enhance our mutual prosperity, there is also an increasing level of cooperation between our two countries, to ensure peace and security both in the regional context and in the wider global context. Whether it is terrorism or the challenge of maintaining peace amidst fast paced changes across the world, our interests increasingly converge; our understanding of the nature and the source of problems that we face have also deepened through continuing dialogue.

Our cooperation in the field of security has expanded considerably. Our militaries hold regular dialogue and joint exercises in the air and on land and sea. We are today collaborating in fighting terrorism, coordinating anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia and working together on humanitarian missions in the Indian Ocean region. Our bilateral defence trade which was negligible only a few years ago is today blossoming. We are, for instance, purchasing US $ 8 billion worth of US defence equipment. As we in India continue to modernize our defence forces, I am confident that in the future the United States will become an important source of high technology defence equipment. I believe that we can do better by looking towards co-production, research and development.

Despite our own challenges, we continue to provide economic assistance to our neighbours, including Afghanistan. We are in fact supplementing our individual assistance efforts with joint projects by our two countries in areas such as capacity building, agriculture and women’s empowerment in Afghanistan. Both our countries understand the imperative of ensuring success in Afghanistan. To this end, we have a shared interest in building Afghan institutions, capacities and more importantly the elimination of safe havens and infrastructure for terrorism and violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are now working together and with other regional countries in developing Afghanistan’s economy in a sustainable manner.

We have always been conscious of our Asian identity, of our location at the strategic and cultural cross-roads of Asia. The future of the Asia Pacific region is of vital importance for India’s own future. In India, we recognize that the Asian and the linked Pacific region has a unique environment characterized by a great geographic expanse and extraordinary cultural, political and economic diversity. 

We also recognize that the United States is an Asia-Pacific power, that it has a role and a stake in the future of Asia. The continuance of economic growth and prosperity in both our countries is in some ways linked to Asia. It is necessary in this context that we work together to manage those challenges that may threaten peace and security in the region and impact on sustained economic growth.

It was based on this realization that President Obama and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh spelt out jointly their shared vision of both countries for peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions last November. We have agreed to work together and with other countries of the region for evolution of an open, balanced and inclusive security and economic architecture in the region. We believe that this would need to be a consensus based process, so that all stakeholders can make their respective contributions to regional security. India aspires to this vision in cooperation with all countries, including the US, through partnership, consultation and dialogue. 

The edifice of the India-US partnership is founded on multiple pillars. Our relationship is in a state of constant evolution in a rapidly changing world. As our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has often stated, it is a relationship based on pragmatism and principle; and strengthened by shared values and common interests. That our global partnership has broad political support and seeks to meet common aspirations for mutual prosperity and for peace and security gives me immense confidence in the future of this relationship. 

Both our governments are committed to build on the excellent foundations that we have created to fulfill our common objective of creating a partnership that not only benefits the peoples of both countries, but also responds to the global challenges of our time.

We will move forward and we will deepen our strategic partnership guided by our long-term objectives and with the common goal of promoting global cooperation in dealing with issues that our world has to face together. 

Thank you.