Joe Biden Aims to Kick Start U.S-India Relationship During Overseas Trip

Experts say trade barriers exist between India and U.S.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden exchanges greetings with museum director Manimala during a visit to the Mahatma Gandhi museum Monday in New Delhi, India.
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Vice President Joe Biden, who hopes to kick start the U.S.-India economic and political relationship during his current weeklong trip to the region, met with Indian business leaders and delivered a lengthy speech at the Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai Wednesday.

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Biden's goals are not to return with any formal agreements from India, but rather re-open the dialogue with a country whose economy is on the rise and whose strategic ties are critical to building U.S. stature in the region, experts say.

"India is no longer an economic island, it's a rising economic power; imagine what our two countries can achieve together in this 21st century, not only for one another but for economic stability of the region, as well as the world," Biden said during his speech in Mumbai. "There's no reason if our countries make the right choices that we can't grow together and more rapidly."

Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, says Biden's trip comes at a critical time between the two countries, particularly as the Obama administration hopes to refocus its international attention to Asia.

"In the bilateral relationship, there's a sense that it's sort of stagnant right now; there's even a sense of disappointment on both sides, but particularly on the U.S. side that it really has not progressed in recent years," he says. "Part of this trip is simply to remind the Indians that we are still interested in them and moreover we're still interested in them really becoming a larger and more important player on the global scene on issues from everything from climate change to international trade rules to a larger security role in the Asia-Pacific."

Biden cited both trade and climate change as areas the two countries could do more to collaborate on.

[READ: Biden Will Focus on Trade Security on India Trip]

"It seems to me there are certain basic principles in the way forward that are clear: a trade and investment partnership that is open and fair [and] a security partnership of first resort where we look instinctively to each other to help the Asia-Pacific region to rise," he said.

But Biden also acknowledged both sides would have to be willing to give a little in order to thaw the current relationship.

"There remains a gap between what we are doing and what we are capable of," Biden said.

Hathaway says some of the roadblocks Biden refers to include investment barriers and economic grievances.

"They feel that we have placed barriers to their software engineers and their IT professionals from working in America so visas are really a big issue in this bilateral relationship," he says. "They worry about us inappropriately protecting our intellectual property so that it handicaps particularly their pharmaceutical industry."

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In remarks following a business roundtable at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, Biden acknowledged the Indian concerns.

"There was an honest discussion about how both governments could be productive in reducing trade barriers that have an impact on trade and commerce," he said according to a pool report. "We mean what we say when we say that the relationship between India and the U.S. has unlimited potential and there is no reason why trade, commerce and intercourse between our countries can't increase exponentially over time."

Teresita Schaffer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's India Project, says Biden's trip is an important step in a process that needs to be viewed in a larger temporal context.

"If you look at the recent figures, while trade has continued to grow, U.S. investment in India has not been particularly high the past couple of years, Indian investment in the United States has continued to grow," she says. "It is my understanding that Biden did not arrive with a briefcase full of very specific policy asks. That list exists – in fact one of the depressing things is that list has not changed a great deal in the past decade."