Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the fifth Indian leader to address a joint meeting of the US Congress on June 8, 2016. Modi’s address emphasized security and defense ties between India and the United States, condemned global terrorism and voiced support for “freedom of navigation of the seas.” He also praised the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and thanked Congress for its support for the agreement. Beyond security-related issues, Modi’s speech also highlighted India’s robust economic relationship with the US as well as the two nations’ long-standing cultural and ideological ties.
Modi’s address to Congress came as part of a three-day visit to the United States, his fourth since 2014. During his time in the US, Modi met with President Obama to discuss a wide range of issues. Notable topics included climate change, specifically implementing the Paris Agreement, and defense ties. In the joint statement released following their visit, India was elevated to a “Major Defense Partner” of the United States, expanding the US-India Defense Framework signed by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar in 2015. India has become a crucial strategic partner in Asia, and American arms exports to India increased by more than $12 billion between 2005 and 2015, making India the largest importer of American arms. India’s upgrade to a Major Defense Partner, which attracted Indian media outlets’ attention, is sure to further boost exports to India in defense industries, as mentioned in the joint statement.
However, Modi also stressed that India and the United States have developed a strong trade relationship in industries unrelated to security and defense. American imports from India have surged in various industries, increasing from $300 million to over $2 billion in the petroleum industry, and from $800 million to $6 billion in the pharmaceutical industry between 2006 and 2015. India has also become a major importer of US agricultural goods. In Montana, the largest American producer of pulse crops, for example, exports to India grew 117% annually between 2001 and 2011 thanks to India’s high demand for crops like peas and lentils. In 2014, more than half of Montana’s pulse crops were exported to India.
Other states, like Nevada, have forged ties with India in the tourism industry to attract visitors and Indian investment. In 2015, Virginia’s governor Terry McAuliffe visited India to promote Virginia’s culture in light of the growing numbers of Indian Americans in Virginia. These states are just two of nine where the Indian American population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. Modi’s assertion at his Congressional address that the US is an “indispensable partner” rings true for Americans across industries and around the United States.
Andrea Moneton is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.