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Mike Pompeo’s India visit: ‘Can we come to an agreement that allows data to flow freely among countries so we don’t balkanize the Internet?’

“Can we come to an agreement that allows data to flow freely among countries so we don’t balkanize the Internet, make our companies less competitive, and impede economic growth?” asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his visit to Delhi earlier this week. “I am certain there is a way,” he said, answering his own question. Pompeo doesn’t seem to have made a direct reference to India’s push on data localisation, and reports don’t point to any separate discussion between Pompeo and New Delhi on local data storage. Pompeo also seemed to sidestep concerns on localisation, declaring that instead of focusing on “the differences” and “things that cause challenges” such as data localisation, which “are the small piece of the relationship between our two countries”, India and US should focus on potential opportunity.

Pompeo’s visit to Delhi, and the upcoming G20 summit, come at a time when India and USA countries have run into problems over tariff, trade, flow of data, and  e-commerce rules, among other defence and military issues. The US kicked India out of a preferential trade programme — GSP — which gave India duty-free access to American markets. India retaliated by imposing tariffs on some US goods. The US then considered (but later declined the claim) 15% cap on H1-B work visas for states that mandate data localisation. Although it didn’t specify India, it was clear that USA was posturing. Pompeo met PM Modi, Minister for External Affairs Dr S Jaishankar, and NSA Ajit Doval, and business leaders including Anand Mahindra, Ratan Tata, and Uday Kotak.

“India more and more is standing on the world stage, and we welcome your assertiveness, because it’s good for the world,” said Pompeo. “Can we have a more robust defence relationship grounded in interoperability, with common platforms, shared doctrines, and new technologies?”

India’s IT sector, it’s more than just a digital miracle – it’s a source of national pride. … Can we help each other’s private industries disengage from countries with a weak rule of law and invest in partner nations eager to house our supply chains and our innovators?

On 5G safety (read: Huawei)

In an oblique reference to the current US sanctions on Huawei, and India’s concerns with the Chinese company, Pompeo indicated that the US and India could work as partners “to keep India’s networks — and the 5G networks of the future — safe and reliable”. And moreover, he’s “confident that we can”. India’s scrutiny of Huawei has increased after American sanctions on the telecom major; Huawei’s sister company ZTE is among the companies which has sent proposals to 5G trials to the Indian government. Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said that the DoT alone will not decide Huawei’s business engagements in India, and it will be the government’s call after a panel set up by DoT submits its report on Huawei to it.

On GSP: ‘Each country will have to give things up and make certain trade-offs, but that’s what friends do’

When asked about the American withdrawal of GSP in an India Today interview, and what India could do to restore it, Pompeo said that he was confident that this can be fixed. “I know that GSP is a big deal and matters to India an awful lot. Trade and trade deficit matters also matter a lot to President Trump.” He stated that “… make no mistake, neither country will get everything they want when that deal is put together, when it’s ultimately resolved. Each country will have to give things up and make certain trade-offs, but that’s what friends do”. “We each have an obligation to do our best to make sure that our countries are well represented … Our trade representatives will represent their country as well.”

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One million Indian youth enter the job market every month. There are trillions of dollars in potential American investment sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be put to work in the Indo-Pacific region.  The table of prosperity is set. Can India find a new appreciation for the economic freedom that complements political freedom?  I know that we can do this together.

It is widely understood that the United States is important to India.  It is less well understood how important India is to the long-term interests of the United States of America.

Pompeo also said in the same interview that the Indo-US relations could be more “ambitious” and President Trump is committed to issues between the two countries. “There was deep understanding that India and America need to be solid partners”, Pompeo said, “for the sake of both our people, and the region and world”. PM Modi and Trump will build on current talks at the G20 summit in Japan, he said. “We have an enormous economic relationship between our two countries, its absolutely inevitable that countries with such a deep relation, connected relation will find themselves not being able to figure it out from time-to-time.”

(All emphasis in Pompeo’s quotes is ours.)

***Update (June 29, 2019 10:13 am): This article was edited for grammatical errors. Original article published on June 28, 2019.

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