Meeting with Mr. Thomas Vajda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, U.S. Department of State – 22nd April 2020
On April 22nd, AMCHAM organized a virtual meeting on U.S.-India relations and the road ahead post COVID-19 with Mr. Thomas Vajda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, U.S. Department of State. Ms. Ranjana Khanna, Director General CEO, AMCHAM, warmly welcomed participants to the session and expressed gratitude for the support of the U.S. Embassy. Ms. Kaku Nakhate, Vice Chairperson, AMCHAM and President & Country Head (India), Bank of America N.A., provided an overview of the Indian economy and steps necessary to jumpstart the recovery and noted that the U.S. was India’s largest export destination. She mentioned that a new dimension could possibly be a shift in the supply chain from China to India with an overall optimistic view that the relationship between India and U.S. would continue to grow. Ms. Nakhate introduced Deputy Assistant Secretary Vajda.
Mr. Thomas Vajda talked about the excellent cooperation between governments, business communities and scientists and identified some of the ongoing collaboration between the U.S. and India, which was visible during President Trump’s visit to India in February. He said there has been intensive unprecedented senior level engagement between both governments. DAS Vajda emphasized that the U.S. definitely looks to India as a fundamental and critical partner in addressing the COVID challenge and summarized the assistance for American citizens in India, repatriation of citizens, export of important pharmaceuticals from India to the U.S., assistance in allowing exemptions for IT workers to work from the office, a lot of work between CDC, USAID, vaccine development and emphasized that the ties that have been created in the preceding years were paying off.
DAS Vajda talked about how the U.S. was in the early stages of seeing how to deepen the ties between the U.S. private sector and the Indian private sector and recognized the need to diversify supply chains. He commended U.S. companies in India who have stepped up to the challenge and have been good corporate citizens helping their local communities and strengthening the strong people to people ties.
The Q&A session witnessed issues ranging from pharmaceuticals, energy, immigration and visa procedures, defense and supply chain amongst others. For U.S. industry looking to import raw materials/APIs from Indian suppliers, DAS Vajda assured industry that they were in touch with the necessary Indian authorities for the requests. The import of hydroxychloroquine from India and export of testing kits to India was mentioned. The possibility of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and U.S could not be restricted to a particular sector and given the present conditions it would be considered a long term goal. He also mentioned that the U.S. has a natural role in helping India with technology transfer and upgradation.
The potential suspension of immigration temporarily and H1B visas were also touched upon. He expressed his wish to see an increase in Indian students in U.S. post COVID-19 crisis. The defense pacts worth $3 billion signed during U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to India in February 2020 and the tremendous opportunities available in the energy sector for both countries were discussed. Other topics discussed included high corporate taxes, logistical and infrastructure bottlenecks, tariff structure, bureaucratic hurdles, broader geographical issues and the importance for India to integrate more into the global supply chain.
Mr. Atul Dhawan, Honorary Secretary & Treasurer, AMCHAM and Partner, Deloitte, in his closing remarks, talked about the consequential threat to the world order, social tensions and the need for countries like India to work with the U.S. to maintain the world order. He said that mankind has always emerged stronger on the other side of every crisis and countries need to work together to bring prosperity back to the world. He assured members that AMCHAM would continue to have government dialogues and thanked DAS Vajda for the interaction.