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Will Biden Era Be Different?

Will a change in guard at the White House mean much for India? Well, rather unlikely, given the compulsions of American economy and polity. — KK Srivastava


A New Era in Politics and Diplomacy?
Even in his defeat, Trump got considerable vote support. This goes to indicate that Trumpism has left an indelible mark on America.  Trumpism stood for two main planks. First, resurrection of the principle of isolationism, as in 1930s in America, Trump effectively combined economic protectionism with insular foreign policy. Two, prioritization of the nation over the U.S. international commitments. Both struck a deep cord  with Americans who then supported his war against China and anti immigrant support. Americans were successfully made to believe that American nationalism could protect their entitlement to education, employment, and livelihood. In the shadow of looming crisis in capitalism globally, Trump promised American people a return to greatness, blaming all woes on the world outside. Biden on the other hand believes in multilateralism, institutional integrity, gender and racial justice, accommodative stance, and global outreach. Yet Trumpism is now deeply etched and it is unlikely that the U.S. will be able to work on a clean state anytime soon. Does it want to, anyway? There are two vital facts to be noted. One, both Biden and Trump agree that it’s time the U.S. has a reduced burden on the world stage. And, two, both believe that it is not America’s responsibility to spread democracy, or even make it a focus of their foreign policy.

Mr. Narendra Modi had invested considerably in Trump administration. Election rallies with Trump, 2x2 talks just before the U.S. elections . . . virtually endorsed Trump reelection. But now that Biden will occupy the White House, there will be some reversal of the Trump era policies. U.S. is thus likely to return to the Paris Climate accord. It will also return to Iran nuclear negotiations. With China Biden would prefer a less  confrontationist attitude while maintaining a pushback. What should worry India is his stance on human rights, Jammu and Kashmir, and the CAA. Mr. Biden’s government will be advised by policy hacks and dictated by laid out processes, unlike Trump who was almost like a one man army. Expect no more personalized summit style, no sudden decisions like withdrawal of India’s GSP export status; instead, policy consistency will be witnessed. And while it is not very certain, Biden perhaps would prefer to reenergize the multilateral global order.

For India, Biden in white House may be a mixed blessing. In general, India has done better busness with Republican presidents whose focus on India is in terms of its democratic status and it being a bulwark against authoritarianism. Democrats are, on the other hand, are more concerned with human rights, religious freedom, etc. On the other hand, some irritants like immigration and visas will be less problematic now. Trade negotiations will be less transactional. Indian government’s recent focus on climate change and reneweable energy will also find support from Washington.

Biden is of course not new to India. He was Obama’s VP and keenly supported India during the Indo-US nuclear deal. He has hoped for closed relationship between India and China in the 21st century. Biden has also promised to work with India to support a rule based and stable Indo-pacific region in which no country, including China, will be able to threaten its neghbours with impunity. He has promised to be more liberal with immigration. Kashmir, NRC, CAA, etc. are likely to be some thorny issues. It is to be seen, however, that in these issues whether the Democrats were mainly addressing their domestic constituency or were being seriously concerned about them.   

Likewise, there are some sensitive trade related issues like tariffs on Indian exports, removal of GSP benefits, imposition of restrictions of H1-B visas. These all need resolution. But Biden’s stance on all these sounds accommodative. A bipartisanview co on containing China will also make India an important partner with America. On many platforms Biden has announced that the wants that the two nations come closer

Trade Ties
The policy paper released by Democrats on August 15 made specific commitments towards keeping to work to make India become a permanent member of the U.N. security council, continued cooperation on terrorism, strengthening ties on issues like climate change and health and working towards a mulifold increase in bilateral trade. What are the ground realities?

India’s trade surplus with the U.S. has seen a steady decline under Trump regime which imposed retaliatory tariffs and withdrew GSP benefits. This created a lot of uncertainly. The trade surplus declined from $28.6 billion to $18.6. Biden may dump unilateralism as a trade response in favour of multilateralism like TPP (transpacific parternership), the world’s largest trade deal involving 11 other nations and 40% of the global economy. If India joins TPP, India will feel the pressure to be part of some mega trade deal, may be TPP itself, to balance the impact. Especially, when New Delhi has already turned away from Beijing dominated RCEP. U.S. is also unlikely to dilute its strong criticism of WTO. While trade ties with India may improve, Biden is likely to impose tougherlabour and environmental norms. To top it all the ‘America first’ agenda is here to stay. Besides, in senate Republicans still hold sway; this will limit the policy options for the new incumbent. All in all, Biden’s policies are more likely to support multilateral bodies like WTO and WHO, but without ‘compromising’ American interests. In the Indo-pacific region Biden will seek to counter Chinese aggression by, inter alia, establishing new defense and strategic ties with India. But Biden would demand greater market access from trading partners. Finally, he may not be as aggressive against China as Trump even if he is likely to continue China containment policy. A reduced focus on trade deficits may deescalate trade tension between China and U.S., with attendant impact on India. A change of guard at the U.S. then may not significantly alter American trade policies. If America pushes the pedal on relocating supply chains away from China, then India can potentially gain.

But the following statement on Biden Webside is worrisome: “If we make smart investments in manufacturing and technology, give our  workers and companies the tools they need to compete, spend tax payers’ dollars to buy American and spark American innovation, stand up to the Chinese government abuses, insist on free trade, and extend opportunities to all Americans, many of the products that are being made abroad can be made here today.” Thus we would be wise not to expect any drastic policy shifts in favour of India. The negotiations with America on tariff and non tariff issues are likely to be tough and prolonged with Bidden too supporting “Made in all of America by all of American workers”  stance. Bidden’s manifesto clearly emphasized: Buy American, market in America, invest in America, innovate in America, and supply in America. In other words American recovery and glory will dictate Biden’s policy too.

So what can India do? Well, as Ronen Sen, the former ambassador to the U.S. says: “We should focus our effects on leveraging complementarily of interests and our strength in talent and market size, along with shaping the new standards and regulating regimes.” Biden too has misgivings about China’s trade policies, practices, technological competition, IP theft and expansionist policies in regional waters. Let India try to be the closest ally in this background.    

The author is Associate Professor, PDGAV Collage, University of Delhi.

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