USIBC hosts outgoing Indian envoy, incoming Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla

Ambassador Shringla suggests providing exclusive opportunities to Indian and American companies with the goal of increasing bilateral trade

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, January 12, 2020 – It has been a week of bittersweet adieus for seasoned and skilled Indian ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla who will soon depart for Delhi to take charge as the country’s next Foreign Secretary.

During an “intense”, albeit short, time in DC, Shringla has proved he is a diplomat extraordinaire: adept, amiable and humble to the core — traits which have endeared him to one and all! Ever since he landed here a year ago, he has hit the ground running and the pace has only accelerated with each succeeding month.

Resounding welcome for Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla by record number of US lawmakers

Reflecting on the progress and potential of India-US ties at a farewell reception held in his honor Thursday, hosted by the US-India Business Council (USIBC), the envoy told leaders in the corporate sector that he is taking back with him “some very significant lessons learned, best practices, very good memories of a relationship” which he believes “is one of the most important if not the most important for us. It is a strategic partnership that we look to not for the next four to five years of an election cycle, but a long-term relationship in which we must see a mutuality of benefits between two countries that have the same values, same shared principles and the same way of looking at how we would like to see the rest of the world evolve”, he said.

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Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla addressing a farewell reception held in his honor and hosted by the US-India Business Council (USIBC) in CityCenterDC

Given the orientation of the attendees and the fact that senior board members of USIBC, headed by Nisha Desai Biswal, and parent body US Chamber of Commerce have been pitching for increasing bilateral trade to $500 billion annually, much of the ambassador’s remarks focused on activities linked to the trade and investment potential. Noting that there has been a flurry of activity in trying to bridge the gaps in issues such as e-commerce and “making progress on a trade package”, Shringla reasoned, “We must look for ways to provide a policy framework and facilitation that could secure our relationship on the economic side that is sustainable in the long term”.

Elaborating he said, “What we are really looking at is to engage in a long-term framework under which our two countries can provide free market access to goods from each others countries. As two countries that have a lot of complementarities in trade, we can open up windows that are exclusively for our companies and thereby even double our trade figure of $160 billion”.

Sharing insights which shed some light on what makes him such an exemplary envoy, Shringla noted that the Indian diplomatic mission in Washington has been proactive in forging partnerships and taking new initiatives that would further advance the bilateral relationship while mindful to take steps of a preemptive nature.

“I have always believed that if you have to practice effective diplomacy, it means resolving issues at the source or nipping them in the bud”, he told business leaders at the USIBC reception. “The moment you allow issues to surface, you have already failed in what you have to do”, he said. “My colleagues in the embassy and I have always been very particular about the fact that we need to address issues as and when they arise”.

Noting that some of the issues such as trade deals were already being negotiated, he drew attention to the ground-handling standoff with the US regarding operation of its airlines and how it was successfully resolved under his watch. The Indian government has amended regulations allowing foreign airlines to manage their own ground-handling procedures.

“This is an issue that could have resulted in a much worse, difficult, complicated situation, but we have managed to take it off the table”, Shringla said emphasizing with a good measure of relief, “It is no longer an issue on the bilateral side”.

Indian envoy Harsh Vardhan Shringla addresses concerns of Sikh Americans at Gurpurab celebration on Capitol Hill

He pointed out that there have been many developments in the global, regional and bilateral realms that have had an impact on the India-US relationship. In this regard, he mentioned high-level exchanges particularly in the second half of 2019 including four meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, visits to Washington by senior Indian officials: external affairs minister Dr. S. Jaishankar, defense minister Rajnath Singh, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal, and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The “gamut of exchanges has been very significant”, Shringla said. “So, the plate has been quite full”.

On his part, the envoy has been breaking a lot of new ground by reaching out to states across the US, visiting 21 within the short span of a year. Some six governors have either visited India or will be visiting in the near future leading business delegations.

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Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla (front-right) mingles with guests at a farewell reception held in his honor, hosted by the US-India Business Council (USIBC). A seasoned and skilled diplomat, he has been appointed as India’s next Foreign Secretary

In warm, welcoming and eloquent remarks, Biswal told ambassador Shringla, “I have been struck with the tenacity and the enthusiasm with which you have approached your very broad and expansive mandate here in the United States”.

She met Shringla for the first time when he was serving as India’s high commissioner to Bangladesh and she was the Obama administration’s point person for south and central Asia.

“We hit it off right away”, she recalled about their first meeting. “I was immediately taken by the very direct, open and engaged manner in which he approached the relationship” and last year, they were afforded “an opportunity to strengthen the US-India economic partnership”, she noted.

“Ambassador Shringla is someone who has become in a very short period of time a very important fixture here in Washington, DC, in the corridors of power, in the policy conversations around the city” and the country, Biswal said.

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USIBC hosts outgoing Indian envoy, incoming Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla

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