A week into the office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kicked off his foreign policy initiatives. His first stop being Maldives, followed by Sri Lanka, even as the foreign minister Jaishankar visits Bhutan. The question is, what are the top foreign policy priorities for Modi 2.0? How does South Asia feature in this scheme of things?
Speaking to BloombergQuint’s Harsha Subramaniam, Neelam Deo, Co-founder and Director, Gateway House said that BIMSTEC is a shift away from SAARC and that there has been no summit meeting of SAARC in Modi’s first government.
“It is also important to remember that in the first swearing-in ceremony, the then prime minister of government in exile of Tibet had been invited as well as the leader from Mauritius. In this swearing-in, it was BIMSTEC but it was also Kyrgyzstan which is the chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.”Neelam Deo, Co-founder and Director, Gateway House
Suhasini Haidar, diplomatic editor, The Hindu on whether BIMSTEC is a diplomatic way to keep Pakistan out, she said that BIMSTEC actually leaves out both Afghanistan and the Maldives and both the countries are important to India.
“If it was just a question of leaving out Pakistan, I assume government would have just left out Pakistan. You don’t have to invite everyone to your swearing-in ceremony. You invite those who you are comfortable with,” she added.
She mentioned that the first visits are always to the neighbourhood and that it has been the tradition in India.
“The problem is that after saying ‘neighbourhood first’ and doing that first visit, whether the neighbourhood continues to get that kind of attention.”Suhasini Haidar, diplomatic editor, The Hindu
On what would be the broader foreign policy vision of India, Neelam Deo said that the government will “try and be more high profile in multi lateral institutions.”
On the issue of the ongoing trade tension and whether Foreign Minister S Jaishankar is positioned to handle this immediate challenge, Suhasini Haidar said, “There are a range of issues in front of Jaishankar. The first being the GSP trade status being withdrawn from India. The second being the kind of push we are seeing when it comes to Indian trade practices, data localisation, whether or not India goes ahead with allowing Huawei to bid for 5G telecom technology here.”
GSP Trade Status Withdrawn from India
As he hardened his stand on trade, US President Donald Trump ended India's $5.6 billion trade concessions under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences programme with effect from 5 June.
"I have determined that India has not assured the United States that India will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets," he said in a proclamation issued on 31 May.
On 4 March, Trump announced that the US intended to terminate India's designation as a beneficiary developing country under the GSP programme.
Under the GSP programme, nearly 2,000 products including auto components and textile materials can enter the US duty-free if the beneficiary developing countries meet the eligibility criteria established by Congress.
India was the largest beneficiary of the programme in 2017 with USD 5.7 billion in imports to the US given duty-free status and Turkey the fifth largest with USD 1.7 billion in covered imports, according to a Congressional Research Service report issued in January.