US Secretary of State John Kerry met Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj ahead of the fifth Indo-US Strategic Dialogue here on Thursday.
The state visit by Kerry is the first high-level interaction at the political level between the two countries after the Narendra Modi government came to power. Relations with the US had lost momentum in the final years of the UPA 2 government, and taken a beating as a result of the Devyani Khobragade fiasco.
Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to visit the US in two months. Kerry and Swaraj had a nearly hour-long restricted meeting before they were joined by delegations comprising senior representatives from various ministries including energy and trade for the dialogue which the two leaders co-chaired. The two sides discussed “transformative initiatives” in security and energy.
Ahead of the dialogue, Kerry, who was accompanied by US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, met Jaitely and discussed India’s position at the ongoing WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement talks. Pritzker has already expressed disappointment over India’s line at the negotiations, which were set to conclude in Geneva later on Thursday. India has been insisting on a permanent solution on the issue of public stock holding for purposes of food security before it ratifies the agreement.
Pritzker had expressed hope on Thursday “that even in the last remaining days India might find a way to come to a solution on this issue”. The TFA, which which aims at simplifying customs procedure, increasing transparency and reducing transactions cost, is being pushed by western countries as they seek to bolster their sagging economies through unhindered international trade and uniform and easy customs procedures.
The agreement, drafted during a ministerial at Bali, Indonesia, last December, must be sealed by July 31. “We had a good discussion. India is a big market. We also had discussion on issues related to WTO,” an official privy to the meeting said.
Earlier in the day, Kerry visited the applied microbiology and bio-process laboratories at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and interacted with students. He asked a number of questions about the processes involved, education fees, the patents system, and job prospects in India. To a researcher who explained to him a project on bio-degradable plastic, Kerry said, “Very exciting. It would be a huge contribution to the world. Very exciting. Fantastic.” Kerry also visited the lab where algae was being used to clean water and produce biomass.