The relationship between the world’s two largest democracies has seen many dramatic highs and lows since the last presidential polls in 2016.
As the United States of America stands on the brink of electing Democrat candidate Joe Biden or re-electing the incumbent Donald Trump as its next President, we take a look at how these developments might affect India and her interests.
Trade and Economy
In 2019, the Trump administration had terminated India’s Generalized System of Preference (GSP) status. The decision to take away India’s developing nation status under the GSP program was a big blow for the Indian exporters.
Under this programme, Indian exports of up to 2,000 products could enter USA duty-free. Heavy tariffs imposed on the US import of steel and aluminium had also hurt Indian interests.
Trump’s protectionist policy and his ‘America First’ approach haven’t proved to be beneficial for India in the past. The President has repeatedly claimed that India is a ‘tariff king’ and imposes ‘tremendously high’ tariffs on American products.
On the other hand, according to a study by the United Nations trade and development body, UNCTAD, as a result of the US-China trade war, India had gained approximately $755 million in additional exports to the US in the first half of 2019. In case of a prolonged trade war, India stands to benefit further.
Biden has been critical of Trump’s trade war with China and has viewed it as detrimental towards the interests of both US consumers and farmers.
On Climate Change
A change of regime last time, when Trump took over the presidency from Barack Obama, came as an initial setback for India. Just a few days before the 2016 elections, under US pressure India had ratified the Paris climate agreement on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
In order to incentivise India into signing the agreement, the Obama administration had pledged to mobilise around $100 billion every year till 2020 in order to finance the Green Climate Fund that would be used to promote climate adaptation techniques and renewable technologies in under developing and developing countries such as India.
Soon after, Trump got elected. He believed that climate change was ‘mythical’ and ‘non-existent’. USA pulled out of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Trump went on to blame India and China for being “leading polluters” and withdrew the prior promises on the GCF deal calling it ‘very unfair’.
Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement if voted to power. In fact, climate change ranks up there on his list. He has proposed $2-trillion to fund green economy and move towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Sticking to his isolationist viewpoint, Trump has extended the ban on H-1B and other foreign work visas till the end of this year. Trump sees this as a measure to protect the American workers. This move has affected thousands of Indian IT workers, who are seen as the largest beneficiaries of this visa service.
Biden has promised to lift the temporary ban on H-1B visas.
Trump’s unpredictability, protectionist methods and his complete disdain towards international organisations has been the cornerstone of his foreign policy.
Obama administration’s rebalance to the Indo-Pacific was dealt with a blow when Trump decided to walk out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was seen as a measure to contain China’s economic dominance in the area.
Of late, Trump has been keen on developing alliances in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region in order to contain China strategically and militarily.
Trump’s insistence on working closely with India, Japan and Australia and to formalise a Quad alliance is an outcome of that.
Though India has been benefitted to an extent, the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and America’s worsening ties with Iran has proved to be a headache for India time and again. With US distancing itself from Iran, the country has been pushed closer to China.
Iran dropping India from the Chabahar rail project came as a huge setback. Iran is critical to India’s geopolitics as it is the only viable trade route to Afghanistan and the energy rich Central Asia.
New power blocs have emerged in West Asia, with US brokering peace deals between Israel and United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, both allies of Saudi Arabia; and isolating Iran.
While Biden is seen to embrace multilateralism and congagement, Trump’s decision to walk out of the Iran Nuclear Deal has come under heavy criticism from Biden.
Biden has talked tough on cross-border terrorism and says he will stand with India against all kinds of threats. While Trump sees China as an adversary both militarily and strategically, Biden sees China more of an economic challenge to US interests.
“If Biden wins, China will own the USA,” Trump has said on several occasions. Donald Trump Jr., the son of Donald Trump, warns that Biden is soft on China and that could spell doom for India.
The Biden family has come under constant criticism from the Trump campaign over their business interests with China.
While the American administration has been silent on India’s domestic issues which has, more than often, drawn heavy flak from Human Rights activists and international watchdogs — be it on Kashmir or Citizenship Amendment Act, it is to be seen if the Biden government turns out to be more vocal.
Not long ago, the US president's former national security advisor John Bolton revealed in an explosive behind-the-scenes book that Donald Trump pleaded with China's leader Xi Jinping for help to win re-election in 2020.
Owing to his unpredictability, one wonders if Trump is re-elected, will he continue the same tirade against China? Or is it just another political gimmick at the end of the day?
(With inputs from PTI and agencies)