Vice President Joe Biden: Our Goal is to be India’s Best Friend

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Vice President Joe Biden addressing the USIBC Leadership Summit on the eve of the integral US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. US State Department Photo

USIBC Summit draws luminaries in government, business and industry

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, September 21, 2015 – On the eve of the integral India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue and just days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden has declared: “Our goal is to be India’s best friend”.

Addressing the 40th Anniversary Leadership Summit of the US-India Business Council (USIBC), Biden said, “The President and I and the entire administration believe that the India-US relationship will be a relationship that will go a long way in defining the 21st century”. He affirmed, “We are both major players on the world stage. And it’s up to us – India and the United States – to lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example”.

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At the USIBC 40th Anniversary Leadership Summit are seen from left to right: Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman; US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker; Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj; US Secretary of State John Kerry; and USIBC President Dr. Mukesh Aghi. Photo credit: Ian Wagreich / US Chamber of Commerce

The USIBC Summit drew a powerhouse gathering, some 400 strong, to the magnificent Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, proximate to the White House, on a Monday evening. Among the attendees were high-profile leaders of government, business and industry, including Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Indian Energy Minister Piyush Goyal, Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Indian Ambassador Arun K. Singh and Deputy Chief of Mission Taranjit Singh Sandhu, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal, US Ambassador to India Richard Verma, and Congressman Ami Bera of California, Democratic Co-Chair of the House India Caucus.

Biden, who is currently weighing a 2016 presidential run, emphasized it is imperative for India and the US to stand together. “It’s no longer about what we can do for India. It’s about what we can do with India, what we can do together”, he said. “We need to stay together to counter terrorism and counter violent extremism”, he stressed.

Quoting Indian Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore who wrote, “We cannot cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water”, Biden said the two sides should “cross the sea together”!

On the economic front, the Vice President noted that there is so much potential for bilateral trade and investment which must be increased five-fold from $100 billion to $500 billion, but in order for that to happen he pointed out that more reforms are needed in India. He assured that the US will do everything to support Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious reforms.

Biden cautioned, “Both our nations have to resist the forces of intolerance and remain vigilant in our efforts to make our democracies stronger and more inclusive. It’s not just the morally right thing to do, it’s the economic necessary thing to do”.

The Vice President lauded India’s greatest resource: it’s human capital. “We’ve experienced it first-hand: three million Indian-Americans whose talent have shaped the fabric of this country in our schools, our hospitals, our research labs, in our courtrooms, in our government, in the arts and entertainment, and from Silicon Valley to Main Street”, he marveled.

Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is co-chairing the strategic side of the dialogue with Secretary Kerry, said that the India-US relationship “is defined by a natural synergy of democracies and easy identification among our peoples”.

She noted, “We have harnessed the commonalities between our two countries to further bilateral priorities in several areas including defense and security, countering terrorism and extremism, clean energy and environmental protection, science and technology and space, manufacturing and digital technology”.

Minister Swaraj made it clear that the India-US partnership is about ‘Sanjha Prayas Sabka Vikas’ (Shared effort, prosperity for all).

Underscoring that India offers immense economic opportunities for American investors, she told the gathering, “Our focus is on building 100 smart cities, rejuvenating the Ganges river and developing cities along its banks, and skilling 300 million youth by 2022″.

The Union Minister said, “The business of diplomacy in India’s present government is business. The government’s priority from day one has been to make it easy to do business in India and with India”.

She lavished praise on “Americans of Indian origin”, noting that they “epitomize the appreciation of excellence, reflecting the freedom and opportunity cherished in our countries”.

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Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the USIBC Leadership Summit on the eve of the integral US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. US State Department Photo

Secretary Kerry declared, India and the US are “the most natural of partners” and the dialogue “is one of the most important that we have with any country on the planet”!

He noted, “We are the countries of innovation and opportunity. We think alike. We have an ability to be able to build this future…. And while there is always room for improvement, it is very clear that the climate for bilateral investment and trade has never been better. And that is true in everything from clean energy to aerospace to financial services and movies where, obviously, Hollywood and Bollywood reign supreme”.

Secretary Kerry dwelt on the challenges posed by climate change. He commended Prime Minister Modi’s plan to make India’s economy more reliant on renewable sources of power. “It is absolutely critical in the end on pure economic terms”, he said. “It’s also smart politically because a recent survey reported that 73 percent of Indians view climate change as the most pressing global concern”.

Commerce Secretary Pritzker, who is co-chairing the commercial side of the dialogue with Minister Sitharaman, called for escalating the pace of economic reforms in the world’s largest democracy.

India, she noted, “is only America’s 11th largest trading partner and 18th largest export market. Our commercial relationship has simply not lived up to its enormous potential”, she lamented.

“We have known this for decades. But, today, given the headwinds in the global economy, neither of us can afford this under-performance any longer. We must take action to address the impediments to growth faced by our businesses and our economies. And we can only succeed by working together”, she said.

Minister Sitharaman underscored, “We are committed to making India a favored destination for Foreign Direct Investment”.

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USIBC President Mukesh Aghi presenting the Council’s Global Leadership Award to Indra Nooyi, Chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo, at the 40th Anniversary Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Ian Wagreich / US Chamber of Commerce

At the sparkling Summit, the USIBC Global Leadership Awards were conferred upon Indra Nooyi, Chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo, and Shobhana Bhartia, Chairperson and Editorial Director of Hindustan Times Group.

USIBC President Mukesh Aghi noted that both were honored for their “contributions and commitment to driving a more inclusive global economy and for their roles as women leaders”.

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