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US-India relations under Trump and Modi: areas where ties can surge

In areas such as defense, health care and climate change, there needs to be a “surge” of American businesses, NGOs and innovation to assist India.

By Nish Acharya

Nish AcharyaBOSTON: The US-India relationship is entering uncharted territory. President-elect Trump doesn’t have any track record or policy proposals as it relates to India. There are those who equate his anti-Muslim stances as evidence of being pro-Hindu, and, therefore, pro-India. Neither of these are true, and the reality is that we have no idea what the Trump administration will want in its relationship with India or Prime Minister Narendra Modi because he hasn’t yet articulated his view of India’s place in the world or on issues of importance to India specifically. The closest is to assume that his opposition to free trade and immigration will have a negative impact on India.

But as we wait to see what the President-elect does, the private sector will continue to lead the bilateral relationship closer — just as it has over the last 25 years through various Prime Ministers and Presidents. The areas in which American business and civil society are collaborating with peers in India continue to grow, with recent pushes into clean energy and joint research R&D.

One of the most important things to be done in India is to build the capacity of the Indian private sector in critical sectors to India’s development. In some areas, such as defense, health care and climate change, there needs to be a “surge” of American businesses, NGOs and innovation to assist Indian business to make a real impact and build the capability of Indian organizations to grow, scale and reach millions of Indians with important products and services. This surge would bring many American businesses, philanthropies and NGOs to India for greater collaboration and investment — particularly over the next 4-6 years.

Over the next five years, there are several areas where there is much to do. Most pressing is climate change and environmental stewardship. New Delhi is currently under severe pollution threat. At the same time, India wants, and needs, to build its manufacturing base to create jobs and economic opportunities for its citizens. New technologies and strategies to manage the environment and flight climate change while still allowing for economic growth must be done in collaboration with the United States — the leader in these fields. The US and India are already collaborating on solar energy and need to expand this to water desalination, wind energy, reducing fossil fuel usage and greater conservation.

In defense, the United States has an opportunity to help India modernize its armed forces and more importantly, develop an indigenous military industry. Much of the military’s equipment involves complex information technology — an area where India’s 3 million technology workers can be utilized to create integrated defense systems, products and services for indigenous and global use to fight terrorism and rogue states.

Also in the short term, the United States and India must consider collaboration in health care. America has a health care system that closely resembles the direction being taken by India’s health care system. America has 40,000 physicians of Indian origin and thousands of nurses. They are keen to engage in building India’s health care capability and should be engaged more actively by Prime Minister Modi. And lastly, there are a growing number of American innovations in public health — in HIV/AIDS, malaria, diarrhea and other areas that are critical to improving the health of India’s population.

In the long term, America and India must plan to lead through join innovation, entrepreneurship, economic partnership and next generation technologies. India has 52 cities with over 1 million residents — and all of them need to develop an entrepreneurial culture like Boston and San Francisco.  India needs to create hundreds of millions of new jobs — and those jobs will come from small businesses, high-growth entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs across India, not just in Bangalore or Delhi. And this is something that only America can help with – not Germany or the UK.

Finally, the United States and India must greatly increase collaboration between its universities on research, its companies on product development, and its think tanks on solutions to major global problems. President-elect Trump can push US government agencies to jointly innovate across the board — to improve agricultural productivity, public health and education in India, and to use India’s high skilled workforce to find low-cost solutions to many of America’s high-cost problems.

These are the areas of greatest opportunity and burgeoning collaboration between American and Indian organizations. Trump and Modi have an opportunity to support these industries through wise public policy, budgetary support and public leadership. Indeed, defense partnerships appear to be the area where there are strong synergies between two leaders. Overall, even if Trump and Modi can’t agree on much, these opportunities will remain and private-sector leaders in both countries should continue to plow ahead.

(Nish Acharya is the author of the The India-U.S. Partnership: $1 Trillion by 2030. Acharya, who served the Obama and Clinton administrations, is also a principal at Equal Innovation, LLC, a strategy consulting and investment group working with universities, governments, foundations, and companies to assist them with innovation, entrepreneurship, and globalization strategies. He serves as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bretton Woods Committee, The Indus Entrepreneurs, and the Clinton Global Initiative.)