Washington: Senior US and Indian officials will go through a series of meetings over Thursday and Friday this week, in an attempt to reduce American controls on exports to India. US commerce department officials said Wednesday that a further reduction of export controls by the US was intended to reflect closer bilateral ties.
The meetings, which will be held under the aegis of the US-India High Technology Cooperation Group, will also include business leaders. According to, Christopher Padilla, the US assistant secretary of commerce, the meetings are intended to address Indian concerns about American export controls, as well as US concerns about proliferation.
Padilla told reporters that the meetings would address "a perception" amongst Indian business that US sanctions would continue to limit high-tech exports to India. He said, "in fact, the point that we want to make is that very few US exports to India require licenses any longer."
India has been under one form of sanctions or another from the United States for a long time, a reflection of the estranged relationship that the two countries have shared since the time of the Cold War. The US bans sales of items that it terms as being dual-use technology that is industrial items with military applications. In 1998, Washington imposed a fresh set of restrictions following nuclear weapon tests by India.
Reflecting the changed nature of the sanctions regime, Padilla said that earlier in 1999, almost one quarter of US technology items required advanced approval for export to India, as compared to just 1 per cent now. Also, according to Padilla, the average licensing time for US technology exports to India now was the same as that for Britain, Israel or France.
Significantly, Padilla remarked that meetings beginning Thursday would try and address policies that continued to "reflect the old nature of our relationship with India, not the new nature of our relationship with India." Deputy commerce secretary David Sampson will lead the US side, whilst the Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon will lead the Indian delegation.
According to Padilla, the US has identified Indian companies in information technology, semiconductor manufacturing and aerospace sectors that will be eligible for the US "Trusted Customer Program." Under the provisions of this programme, licensing is streamlined for companies "with good records of compliance with non-proliferation treaties."
At the Washington end, Padilla said, they would like to see New Delhi to "continue to close the gaps in its control lists" which brings India's curbs on exports of dual-use technology in line with those of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement.
In the shadow of Iran
Interestingly, on Wednesday, India banned the sale of any material and technology to Iran that could be used in development of its nuclear weapons and delivery systems. A notification issued by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade said, "Direct or indirect export and import of all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology which could contribute to Iran's enrichment-related, reprocessing or heavy water related activities, or to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems... whether or not originating in Iran to/from Iran is prohibited."
India has provided for some exemptions, however, keeping in mind the fact that Iran has always stressed that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. India will allow continued sale of equipment meant for light water reactors and low-enriched uranium.
Presumably, India's action on Wednesday would make its intention with regard to proliferation even more clear than it is already. Presumably, it will also settle down, Thursday onwards, to some discussions with the US administration about "closing the gaps in the control lists," which assistant secretary of commerce, Christopher Padilla has referred to.