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India Caucus Co-Chair: 'Build Off Strong Gains' of Past Few Years in U.S.-India Relationship

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a meeting in the Cabinet Room with President Trump and administration members at the White House on June 26, 2017. (Rex Features via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – U.S. and India are responsible for a “defining relationship” in the 21st century, Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) said Monday, the day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with President Trump.

Holding, who serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, described Trump and Modi as “great personalities,” while adding that the U.S. has tremendous opportunity to build off progress made in recent years. Mutual economic investment, collaboration on renewable energy and climate change initiatives have been regarded areas of improvement, with the Obama administration inheriting a relationship that moved away from Cold War tensions under Clinton and Bush.

The U.S. and India exchange about $115 billion in goods and services annually. America represents India’s second-largest trading partner, while India is ninth for the U.S. About 100 Indian companies working in the United States have created an estimated 100,000 jobs while investing more than $15 billion. The U.S. has invested about $28 billion in India the past three years alone.

“I think that we can build off the strong gains that we’ve witnessed over the course of the last few years and continue our progress forward,” Holding said at the Hudson Institute on Monday. “And this visit should allow each leader … to reinforce why this relationship matters to both sides of the equation, but also each leader can express any concerns that they might have candidly, man-to-man.”

In pulling out of the Paris agreement, Trump drew attention to India while calling the pact a bad deal for the U.S. He noted that the agreement would allow India to double its coal production by 2020 while imposing strict coal reduction measures on America. In response to the pullout, Modi said it would be a “morally criminal act” for world powers not to address climate change.

Though collaboration on energy and security measures will be pivotal, Holding said that the most important opportunity will be bolstering business-to-business ties, specifically in technology and innovation. He called the Trump-Modi era an “incredible opportunity to integrate economies and governments,” saying the U.S. and India represent the world’s most innovative leaders.

“Whether you’re in Silicon Valley or Bangalore, these are staffed with incredible people and talented workforces, and this collaboration will also help further assist the prime minister in achieving and realizing his visions for programs such as Digital India and the Smart Cities Initiative, efforts the U.S. government should continue to robustly support with its expertise and resources,” Holding said.

Digital India is aimed at improving internet capabilities and online access to government services. Smart Cities is a concept the Obama administration launched to improve access to public services, minimize traffic congestion, lower crime, bolster economic growth and implement climate change initiatives.

The Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina is home to more than 20,000 Indian-Americans, and about 90 percent of the state’s hotel rooms are owned by that demographic. Should he seek re-election in 2018, Holding will face transgender military veteran Wendy Ella May for his congressional seat in District 2. Holding, who serves as a member of the Ways and Means Committee and who visited India for the fourth time earlier this year, said the core of the U.S.-India relationship is a shared belief and mutual respect of true democracy. He added that Congress will remain on the front lines of the relationship.

“We have no intention of taking our foot off the gas as far as driving this relationship,” Holding said.