First Indo-US Track II discourse to push collaborative ideas

Washington, May 31 (IANS) A first of its kind Track II discourse will follow the June 3 inaugural India-US strategic dialogue to push forward ideas emerging from the government-to-government conversation, according to a leading Indian business body.

Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would lead Thursday’s official talks focusing on five areas-strategic cooperation, energy, climate change, education/ development, trade and agriculture-and also include deeper cooperation on security and intelligence.

Next day leaders of civil society, business and think tanks will give ‘expression to perspectives of people in synergy with US-India synergy’ at an event organised by the Brookings Institution and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

‘The difference is government-to-government dialogue always has a template. This is template free. So the issues could be wide ranging with no hesitation in discourse,’ FICCI secretary general Amit Mitra told IANS in an interview.

This is the first time a Track II conversation would begin with official statements by Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her US counterpart William Burns. ‘That interconnect is very positive and encouraging,’ Mitra said.

The event will focus on two dimensions: the overlap and intersection of American and Indian policies in Asia and the impact of growing economic ties. Panellists will discuss the future direction of the US-India relationship and US and Indian strategic interests in Asia.

Participants will include FICCI President Rajan Bharti Mittal, former Indian foreign secretaries Lalit Mansingh and Kanwal Sibal and former US Ambassador to India Frank Wisner.

Question of how to implement technology transfer of dual use items would be another key area, Mitra said noting that many of the technologies from US, which ultimately is the technology generator and world leader in innovation, are not being transferred to India because of dual use concerns.

However, ‘there has been a very positive response from the US with Defence Secretary Robert Gates speaking of centralising authorities and liberalising for India, in fact as a whole liberalising technology transfer,’ Mitra said.

‘So that could be an important element on which progress could be made with frank and open discussion,’ he said. ‘There could also be a discussion on counter-terrorism collaboration, internal and external, again focusing on technology and information.’

Noting that a $1.7 billion investment on infrastructure is expected to happen in India over the next five years, Mitra said another element could be how to engage the US in infrastructure development in areas like ports, airports, waterways, railways as the whole supply chain is absolutely first rate in America.

Connectivity, health and big education space opening up with India planning legislation to allow foreign universities in India could be other areas.

US investment in India with FICCI facilitating and handholding with its Invest India programme and Indian investment in the US, which is now again picking up after the recession, would be a huge topic, he said.

Mitra wondered if India and US could enlarge their strategic partnership with collaboration in regions where the two countries have common interests as also in a variety of areas from political to economic to social and health, which are essential for 21st century growth.

Hoping that Track II would produce its own report that in a way would strengthen and flesh out some of the first-track issues, and also add some more for the first-track’s consideration, he said: ‘We must open up and deepen multiple facets of collaboration.’

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])