NAM: Talking is Good, but United States and India Should be Moving Beyond Just Words by Now

By: Ryan Ong, Director for International Business Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers

Top U.S. officials are setting travel plans now for the second annual Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD), set for the week of August 28 in New Delhi. This year’s S&CD will be a litmus test for these dialogues, demonstrating whether they can show real progress on concrete issues impacting manufacturers in the United States, or just produce more talk.

This meeting sits in the middle of a busy U.S.-India calendar, sandwiched between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June visit to Washington and the other major bilateral dialogue, the Trade Policy Forum (TPF). This crowded calendar shows how much the two governments have invested in boosting dialogue between the U.S. and India over the past two years.

Yet talk alone will not grow bilateral trade opportunities – and holding a dialogue cannot be the benchmark for the success of the relationship. The United States and India must agree to tangible outcomes that actually remove commercial barriers, promote innovation and create a more open investment environment in India. While India’s recent passage of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been publicly hailed as a step forward, the NAM’s pre-GST analysis shows that the Modi administration still has a mixed scorecard. Manufacturers in the United States continue to face significant challenges to doing business in India – challenges that also hinder economic growth and high-paying jobs here at home.

A look back at last year’s meetings shows both the promise and the challenge of these dialogues. In 2015, these dialogues focused on finding ways for the U.S. and India to talk to each other – and achieved few outcomes that resolved outstanding issues. Final statements from the S&CD and the TPF include, for example, top outcomes such as establishing dialogue tracks on issues such as the ease of doing business, setting future discussions on market access for goods, and launching an Innovation Forum to promote yet more discussions.

The bar for progress must be higher in 2016. After 10 months of regular bilateral engagement on an expanded array of commercial issues spurred by last year’s dialogues, now is the time to leverage dialogue into deliverables.

As U.S. and Indian officials come together in Delhi for this next round of dialogue, the question remains: can the Modi government show the world that it is serious about achieving real reform through an expanded U.S.-India partnership? Manufacturers in the United States cannot afford to wait.