Washington, DC – Welcome was in the air as Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS International) opened its doors here after a long journey, which started 1983 in Rajasthan, the colorful Western state of India. CUTS started out as a rural development communication initiative in the form of a wall newspaper ‘Gram Gadar’ (Village Revolution).
On Thursday, April 19th 2018, CUTS International launched its US center, the first Indian think tank to do so, at an event bringing together a diverse group of dignitaries, practitioners, and experts from the United States, India, and other Indo-Pacific nations to discuss strengthening US-India economic relations. In light of the recent economic and trade relations shifts and the acknowledged need for deeper US-India relations, the timing of establishing an Indian policy research Center in the US capital was enthusiastically welcomed by the participants.
Richard Rossow, Senior Adviser and Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) said, “I warmly welcome CUTS move to establish a presence in Washington, DC. As India increases its presence in American policymakers’ minds, having an India-based think tank in the city can help shape US-India ties by providing a balanced way of thinking of the relationship.” Rossow, a doyen of ongoing India related think-tank activities here, added, “CUTS is larger than many people know. They have a rare ability among Indian tanks to operate effectively at both the federal and national level in India. These perspectives will certainly enrich US policymakers’ views.”
A former pivotal person of the US State Department on US-India relations in the Obama Administration, and now president of US India Business Council (USIBC), Nisha D. Biswal highlighted the role of private capital, which will “leverage the kind of financing that is going to help bring the infrastructure connectivity, which will then give power to that larger Indo-Pacific conversions, allow trade and commerce and allow security to really flow from that.”
Noting that the strength of the Indo-Pacific region is the connection of its people, its economies, and its cultures, Ambassador Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, US State Department, called the opening of the CUTS International Washington, DC Center as a continuation of this vital connection.
In order to identify challenges and opportunities for buttressing US-India relations in the context of India’s emerging role in the Indo-Pacific region, CUTS hosted panelists to broadly discuss why and how should the Quad of Australia, India, Japan and the United States enhance their cooperation beyond maritime security engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
Secretary general of CUTS International, Pradeep S Mehta described the opening of the Washington DC chapter as a reflection of the increasing India-US strategic partnership. “CUTS International presents a vision of bringing together US, India, Australian, Japanese, and other stakeholders to find evidence-based solutions to collective challenges and facilitate forward positive movement toward a prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific region,” Mehta said.
Throughout the discussion, panelists pointed to the US-India deep political, defense, and strategic relationship in shared values, democracy, defense, maritime cooperation, and cultural exchange. However, notably, as important as the relationship is, the potential is still to be realized, particularly in the economic and trade areas.
Labeling the US-India relationship as a “tremendous opportunity,” Mukesh Aghi, president of US India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF), cautioned to keep a look out for the new tariff regime which could be a threat between India and the US in future.
“Threat of CAATSA is going to be a major cause of friction between India and the US. So we need to early on work on both sides of the border to ensure that these frictions don’t come in while each country decides on its defense needs and also the policy on the tariff side,” Aghi advised.
Representatives from the US emphasized its commitment to deepening its relationship with India and its partners in Indo-pacific region. Notably, US presence underpins free movement on maritime routes, respect for rule of law, fair trade, and sovereignty in the region and India is a key partner in this effort.
Likewise, the panelist from the Australian government pointed out that India is a top Australian strategic partner and their bilateral security partnership is growing with maritime exercises. Recently the Australian government commissioned the India Economic Strategic Review that recognizes the need to align Australian strengths with India’s in areas like education, agriculture, water security, energy, and certainly trade.
Among the select audience at the launch event, notable were Ambassador Katrina Cooper, DCM, Embassy of Australia, Washington DC; Subir Gokarn, Executive Director, IMF; Mukesh Aghi, President & CEO, US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF); Nisha Biswal, President, US India Business Council (USIBC); Richard Rossow, Senior Adviser and Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).