Washington, Sep 26: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan arrives here Thursday for his third summit with US President Barack Obama in four years that both sides hope would essentially reaffirm their commitment to a strategic partnership amid a perception of a bilateral drift.
No big ticket announcements are expected to emerge from Manmohan Singh’s meeting Friday at Obama’s Oval Office, barring one relating to the landmark 2008 India-US nuclear deal that has been stalled over India’s 2010 tough nuclear liability law.
Indications are there that the State owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited or NPCIL and US-based supplier, Westinghouse Electric Company, would sign what is called a “Pre Early Works Agreement” on setting up a nuclear plant at Chayya-Mithivirdi in Gujarat.
India plans to buy six of the Westinghouse-manufactured AP 1000 nuclear reactors in a deal worth about $14 billion for the Gujarat project, one of the two sites allocated to US companies for developing atomic power plants under the nuclear deal.
The “Pre Early Works Agreement”, analysts suggested, essentially sidetracks for now the nuclear liability issue that has caused an uproar in India over alleged dilution of the Indian law under which an operator may sue the supplier too in the event of an accident.
But defence appears to be a more promising area with India, which has procured US military equipment worth over $10 billion since 2003, keen to go beyond “a buyer-seller relationship to a joint partnership in design, development and production of defence material,” as Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said in New Delhi.
US too on its part seems willing with US Deputy Secretary of Defence Ashton B Carter ahead of the summit offering to co-produce main stream defence equipment in India, including co-development of the next version of the Javelin anti-tank missile now built by Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Washington was also offering a new electromagnetic technology for catapulting fighter jets off aircraft carriers called EMALS and built by privately held General Atomics to India, said Carter during his recent India visit.
“There are no boundaries from the US point of view, and as far as I know from the Indian point of view,” said Carter who heads the the two countries’ Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTI), a joint effort with Indian national Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon.
Manmohan Singh is also expected to convey India’s concerns about the Senate version of the US Immigration Bill that could lead to Indian companies such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS, paying steep visa fees as penalty that could render them uncompetitive.
Without using the word “Indian” the bill practically singles out Indian and Indian-American information technology (IT) companies that have operations in the US for punitive restrictions on temporary H-1B work visas for skilled workers.
This is an issue on which American firms fully back New Delhi as Indian IT companies like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, and HCL Technologies help them with all sorts of non-core functions such as tech support, human resources, payroll and recordkeeping.
However, corporate America and the US government has a beef with India over a host of other economic issues and a call for more economic reform to attract greater international investment will “certainly be a centrepiece” of Obama-Singh discussion as a senior administration official previewing the visit put it.
So much so a leading US trade body plans to greet Manmohan Singh with a massive ad campaign asking the Obama administration to raise the issue of India’s alleged unfair trade practices.
“Manufacturers and Congress Agree: India must play fair on trade,” says an advertisement issued by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in major publications in Washington and New York.
Nevertheless notwithstanding differences, both sides insist that what Obama has repeatedly called a defining partnership in the 21st century was indeed “scaling that trajectory” as a US official put it.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)