Mukesh Aghi, US-India Strategic Partnership Forum President and CEO, speaks to The Sunday Guardian about the future of India-US bilateral relations.

India’s relationship with the United States has been making headlines for the past year, with various reasons such as the G-20 Presidency, Ajay Banga’s nomination to the World Bank, and Indian Americans joining the Biden Administration. The business and strategic ties between the two countries have been on the rise, leading to an all-time high in diplomatic relations. The confirmation of Eric Garcetti as the new US Ambassador has added to the buzz about the future of India-US relations. The Sunday Guardian caught up with DrMukesh Aghi, President and CEO of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), to gain insights into the future of diplomatic ties between Washington and Delhi.Excerpts:
Q: What will the confirmation of former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcettias the US Ambassador-designate to India mean for Delhi and Indian Americans?
A: I congratulate Mayor Garcetti on being confirmed as the next US Ambassador to India. It was of paramount importance that the United States had a lead envoy in New Delhi, given the depth of this strategic partnership. I thank Senator Schumer for expediting Mayor Garcetti’s hearing and understood the urgency of this matter when he led the CODEL on his recent visit to India.
The incoming Ambassador is aware of the nuances of this relationship and will hit the ground running. Having been the executive of a large metropolitan like Los Angeles, he understands the economic issues and attracting investors, all of which play a part as we seek to strengthen the relationship. As Ambassador, Mr Garcetti will have a full plate with a lot of US-India engagement on the horizon with the Quad Summit in Australia, India hosting G20 world leaders, and an impending state visit by Prime Minister Modi over the summer.
Q: What do you foresee in the recent top nominations of Indian Americans by the Biden Administration?
A: President Biden has made a concerted effort to add diversity of thought and background in his cabinet positions. Rich Verma, the former US Ambassador to India and USISPF Board Member, is a phenomenal choice, given his background and years of expertise in the private sector and his understanding of the US-India strategic partnership as Ambassador. Rich understands people and will make an excellent choice for Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, pending confirmation.
Apart from Ambassador Verma, I commend and congratulate President Biden on selecting Ajay Banga to lead the World Bank. Ajay brings vast experience in the fields of financial inclusion, public-private partnerships, and climate finance and has had leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies. His background in India and his dedication to bridging the gaps in gender parity and poverty alleviation will undoubtedly be an asset in his new role. Ajay’s role as a USISPF founding board member has been instrumental in both USISPF’s success story and the strengthening the commercial bonds between Washington and New Delhi.
Q: As a trade and business expert, how do you analyse the current investment and trade partnership between India and the US?
A: The trade dialogue, which has been a tough negotiation between our democracies, has seen tremendous progress in the last two years. From the restart of the Trade Policy Forum (TPF) after a four-year hiatus to a second dialogue recently. The trade relationship is focused on solving existing hurdles in tariffs and then looking at ways to increase trade synergy through forums such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). India has signed several significant agreements with partners such as the UAE and Australia and talks with the UK and I am confident we will make progress with the US-India trade relationship.
Apart from TPF, the India-US Commercial Dialogue, and US-India CEO Forum aims to bring in deep private sector collaboration and this is vital as one of the key challenges will be to improve the ease of doing business environment, which India has made strides to improve upon.
Despite the pandemic, the US-India relationship hit close to $160 billion in 2021 and we aim to grow the digital trade. At previous USISPF Leadership Summits, Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal expressed his desire to increase this figure to $1 trillion in bilateral trade by 2030. Minister Chandrasekhar predicts that India’s digital economy alone could reach $1 trillion in six to seven years, requiring the US, as the leading tech market, to lead with investments. Companies are seeking a China plus one strategy, and India is the best viable alternative with its large workforce and demographic dividend to catapult its place in the manufacturing echelons.
Q: What does India hold for the US as a partner in the post-COVID-19 world order and post the US Commerce Secretary’s visit to India and its strategic significance?
A: The pandemic created an opportunity for India and the US to collaborate on vaccine delivery by utilizing India’s pharmaceutical sector strengths and the logistics network of the US. Now, in the post-pandemic era, there is a priority to focus on resilient supply chains and strengthening key manufacturing components. Secretary Raimondo’s visit followed a string of high-level engagements starting with the Trade Policy Forum, the iCET dialogues, Secretary Yellen’s Visit to the G20 Finance Ministers meeting, and Secretary Blinken’s visits to the G20 and Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting.
The restart of the US-India Commercial Dialogue and the US-India CEO Forum already bore fruit in the recent signing of the MoU on semiconductor collaboration. This ties into the inaugural iCET dialogues between the recent meeting of the National Security Advisors (NSAs), MrDoval, and Mr Sullivan, as we seek to collaborate on high-tech technologies to boost our defence and tech know-how.
The race for semiconductors is a geopolitical phenomenon and American companies are looking for an alternative to China. The deep collaboration on G20, Quad, and I2U2 will see a concerted effort on climate, technology, resilient supply chains, and continuing vaccine distribution through the emerging market world.