"From this day forward it will only be America first!" President Trump
The Dollar Business Bureau
“Generations of Indian and Hindu Americans have strengthened our country…your values of hard work, education and enterprise have truly enriched our nation.”
“They are taking our jobs. China is taking our jobs. Japan is taking our jobs. India is taking our jobs. It is not going to happen anymore, folks!”
"Today we are transferring power from Washington DC to the people!" "From this day forward it will only be America first!"
Yes, all those statements come from one person, none other than Donald Trump, who has been sworn-in as the 45th President of the United States of America on January 20, 2017. If statements made during the long-drawn election campaign form the basis of elaborate predictions about the impact of Trump's presidency on India, then all the forecasts may be rendered void by Trump's open display of double standards. His insistence on America first belies every other hope that India and other countries would have pinned on him.
Having already gone back on many election promises, it won't be a surprise if none of the election rhetoric translates to policy making. But an open broadcast of capricious and whimsical statements from Trump's twitter handle and election speeches is all the fodder we have, to base our forecasts on.
Going by popular opinion, all emerging markets which have benefitted greatly from exporting to developed economies like the US stand to lose in the face of Trump's anti-free trade stance. Valued at $40.3 billion dollars, Indian exports to the USA accounted for 15% of total exports (the largest share secured by any single country with UAE trailing at 11%) in 2015-16. Growth figures of developing nations have already taken a hit in the past few years due to receding global demand and there's nothing stopping Trump from piling on with his proposed 'border tax'.
Another question that bears weight is whether the proposed corporate tax cut from 35% to 15% under Trump will cause American companies to shut operations in India. Many automakers like Ford, Hyundai, Suzuki, which have manufacturing units in India and also export from here may buckle under pressure and start manufacturing in the USA, currently a net importer of automobiles.
India has found mention in Trump's speeches specifically for the issue of H1-B visas. If the gates for entry into the US for Indian software employees are shut in their faces, giants like TCS, Infosys and Wipro may have to face heavy losses. The recent increase in the cost of application for the visa has already burdened coffers of software companies. Forgoing a lucrative market like the USA which has a major share in India's export of software services is not an option.
That said, Trump has been at best ambivalent on this issue. One fine day, you hear him say he is all for Indians settling in the US after studying from ivy-league institutions like Harvard and Yale. Thereafter, you have him condemning countries like India for taking away jobs. Whatever his opinions, fact remains that diligent Indians like Sunder Pichai have contributed greatly to Silicon Valley enterprises which the USA prides itself with.
Moreover, the Trump rhetoric has made most US citizens believe that English-speaking countries are at an unfair advantage from its outsourcing industry. Calling such a view a travesty would be an understatement. If anything, the cheap and skilled labour India provides American organisations contributes heavily to their profitability. American firms shall not have huge margins to boast about if these jobs are shifted to the USA. The quid pro quo status ensures that both sides will be at loss due to a rollback of outsourced jobs.
At a time when India needs all the investment, it can get for its renewable energy sector, Trump's cavalier attitude towards climate change doesn't help. Under Trump, US may conveniently step back on its commitments to help developing nations reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
Most previous US presidents have either chickened out in taking a strong stance against the proliferation of terrorism in Pakistan or to the contrary, have ended up aiding it financially. In this regard, Trump has fervently advocated keeping terrorism in check. If followed through, this can get India's terrorism concerns some global attention.
"India is the check to Pakistan. You have to get India involved ... They have their own nukes and have a very powerful army. They seem to be the real check ... I think we have to deal very closely with India to deal with it,” he said.
The old saying, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' comes to mind when Trump's aggressive anti-China talk makes headlines. If China's dumping practices can be put in check, the whole world stands to benefit. But there is no guarantee that one country's loss will translate to another's gain, more so for a highly-interconnected world economy in which slowing growth of one region sends tremors to all other nations.
To end on a good note, let's just say Trump, for once, meant what he said when he uttered the words, "I am a big fan of Hindu and I am a big fan of India. Big, big fan!" Even this may not augur well for India since making India synonymous with 'Hindu' is a massive error that could spark communal tensions all over the country.
Having two Indian-Americans given important positions in the Trump administration at least says that he isn't as xenophobic as mainstream media projects him to be. Nikki Haley, UN Ambassador to USA and Seema Verma, administrator for Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are two prized holders of positions of eminence in Trump's office.
Not pinning too many hopes always works for the best. Since India has never been a priority in US foreign relations, worse that could happen is that India remains so.