New Delhi: US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster on Thursday called for strengthening economic ties between the world’s oldest and largest democracies, which he said, would result in greater US commitment to India and the Indo-Pacific region and help iron out any major differences that may crop up between the two.

In a speech on India-US relations in New Delhi, Juster also said that the “America First" initiative of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India" programme were not at variance with each other.

Trade relations between the US and India have grown from $20 billion in 2001 to $115 billion in 2016. But the US complains that India still has many protective barriers in place, should deepen economic reforms and take steps to narrow its $30 billion trade deficit with the US.

Referring to a strengthening of ties in the past 17 years, Juster said be believed the two countries had laid a strong foundation for a strategic partnership “that can have a significant, positive impact on the 21st century and beyond."

“It is now time to build upon this foundation in a flexible but purposive manner. ...It is now time to make sure that the strategic partnership is a durable partnership," Juster said.

On trade, Juster said that the US was “concerned about persistent trade deficits, including the one we have with India. We welcome steps by India to continue its reform agenda, expand market access, and further enhance the protection of intellectual property. And we want to work with India to expeditiously resolve trade and investment disputes."

Stating that the US’s “America First" and Modi’s “Make in India" were not “incompatible" he stressed that “investing in each other’s markets will be mutually beneficial—it will increase our economic interactions and volume of trade, lead to collaboration on emerging technologies, and create jobs in both countries."

Going a step further, Juster said, “it is time to put a strategic lens on our economic relationship – just as we have done with our defense relationship. A number of US companies have reported increasing difficulties conducting business in the largest market in the region – China. Accordingly, some companies are downgrading their operations there, while others are looking with great interest at alternative markets."

India, he said, could take advantage of this situation “to become an alternative hub for US business in the Indo-Pacific region."

“Increased heft in our economic relationship would necessarily provide a broader and deeper, long-term U.S. commitment to India and the Indo-Pacific region. This would complement our growing defence and counter-terrorism partnership, and moderate any policy differences that might arise along the way," Juster said.

Besides trade, Juster also identified defence and counter terrorism, energy and the environment, science, technology and health besides regional cooperation as other areas that could help transform ties into a partnership “that is strong and durable."

On the issue of H-1B visas issued to Indian IT professionals working in the US, Juster said that the US administration and the US Congress undertook periodic reviews of its immigration policies.

“With regard to the H1B in particular, there were press articles last week that somehow people who had got H1B visas and were waiting for the green card have been told they have to go home. ...I think Washington has said that this is not under consideration in this review," Juster said in a bid to allay concerns that some 500,000 to 750,000 Indians waiting for their green cards could be asked to go back home.

“The US is a country of immigrants and that’s what helped drive our economy and our growth and made us what we are. And that’s not going to change," he said.

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