The United States and India should “indemnify” their economic ties from the geopolitical risks being thrown up by the Russia-Ukraine war and provide stability to American investors who are keen to put money in the Indian market, said Atul Keshap, president, US-India Business Council (USIBC) at the US Chamber of Commerce.
In an interview with ThePrint, Keshap, who recently served as Chargé d’Affaires at the United States Embassy in New Delhi, said that American companies are not seeking to have an “unfair advantage”, but are seeking a level playing field.
“In uncertain geopolitical times, investors look for stability. They look for countries that believe in democracy, free societies, rule of law, and where the prospects are optimistic,” Keshap told ThePrint during an interaction.
“India is an anchor of stability when you look around the world, just as the United States is an anchor of stability. Therefore, while there are going to be a lot of geostrategic risks in the weeks and months to come, it convinces me all the more of the logic and strength of US-India relations,” he said.
Keshap spoke about the global fall-out of the series of unprecedented economic sanctions imposed by the Joe Biden administration on Russia in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to declare war on Ukraine.
“In terms of the sanctions, actions have consequences.… Now we have to face the consequences of it all. It is having an impact on energy prices, it is going to have an impact on commodity prices. The war is still in its early stage, we don’t know where it’s going to go.… This is where our industrial might and strength as stable democracies are crucial,” he added.
Keshap stressed the fact that the Russia-Ukraine war, which is going to complete three weeks soon, will impact both Indian and American consumers even more in the coming days.
“Our companies can work together to drive down energy prices. They can work together to drive down commodity prices, drive down prices of finished goods and address the needs of people caught up in this because this war is affecting American consumers, it’s affecting Indian consumers. It is going to have even more impact going forward,” he said.
He underlined that the US and India need to “indemnify” themselves “from the terrible geopolitical risks that have been unleashed on the world in the past two weeks”.
‘Trade does follow the flag’
On the issue of a potential trade deal between India and the US, which took center stage under the previous Donald Trump administration, Keshap said that trade discussions have always been politically sensitive.
“Politics on trade-in democratic societies had been very tough over the past 15 years, increasingly so…. We (US and India) are trying to work on a way forward,” he said, adding that both US and India being Indo-Pacific and Quad partners are now aiming to achieve the set target of $500 billion two-way trade volume annually.
“We need to have a positive way forward because trade does follow the flag,” he said, adding that Indian companies who are operating in the US are “thriving”.
“American companies are doing very well in India. We can do better. And the government has a responsibility to create a conducive framework…. The challenge is that we need to work on ease of doing business,” he said.
According to Keshap, American companies are seeking a “level playing field” to do business in India — not have “unfair advantage”, but “to be treated on par”, just as Indian companies operating in the US are treated.
“They are hundreds and billions, if not trillions, of dollars looking for a safe harbor right now. Capital wants to be safe, it wants to feel protected, it wants to feel that the environment is predictable in terms of the return on investment,” he said.
During his maiden visit to India as the president of the USIBC, Keshap met External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Minister for Petroleum and Housing Hardeep Puri, and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, among others.
‘It’s a dangerous world, getting more dangerous’
According to Keshap, who has also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, countries like India, the US, Australia, and Japan, who make the Quad grouping, believe in “peaceful arbitration of disputes” as democracies that believe in the “rule of law”.
“It’s a dangerous world and getting more dangerous. The work that we want to do is to strengthen both of our societies …. We hope there will be politics of prosperity,” Keshap said.