US energy majors want govt to give them larger access to Indian markets

Dharmendra Pradhan with Rick Perry | Photo: PTI
The United States government has praised India for buying LNG, oil and coal from it but has offered little business interests in return, at the end of the First Strategic Energy Partnership between the two countries. 

US Energy Secretary, Rick Perry offered no signs of having nudged investment by American companies in India's oil and gas exploration blocks. He did not say if Washington will ease off on the cases it has dragged India into at the WTO dispute resolution forum for alleged favours shown by New Delhi to domestic solar companies and said it will wait for outcomes before signing on to membership of India promoted International Solar Alliance. 

"There is no mention of any clear investment promises in the joint statement" said a top India government official. Instead the two page statement cheers Indian investment in the United States and lauds US energy exports to India. Perry said those exports were necessary to restore the imbalance in the US-India trade which shows a $22.9 billion surplus for India in 2017. 

Speaking with the press after about a two hour meeting with Indian petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan, Perry spent the better part selling the virtues of Westinghouse manufactured nuclear reactors, for India. "We dont care who fabricates the nuclear plant, but there is no doubt Westinghouse with the best reactors in the world should be housed there", he said. He did not say by when he expects any deal to be signed for the supply of the reactors for the Kovvada plant. 

Of course there were some positives too from the discussions. Perry said President Trump believes that India is the partner of choice for the USA, especially in energy business. Yet here too while Pradhan mentioned the expected advantage of US oil imports on prices, Perry made no mention of it in his reply. 

Instead the Energy Secretary said USA would be keen to support India's strategic petroleum reserve. The reserve located near Vishakhapatnam currently has a small line of support from the UAE, and it could be to India's advantage if the USA too moves in. But in return it would demand some concessions for dipping into the Indian domestic energy market.  One of those is the possible tweaking of India's energy template to allow for more gas usage. The US has an even larger advantage in gas than oil being the largest producer of it. The mineral is less polluting than coal but India has stayed away from a vigorous exploration of the market for gas since it too is imported. To correct that imbalance, the two countries have agreed to set up a US-India Natural Gas Task Force. Comprising of industry leaders and government officials it will nudge India to include more gas in its energy mix. "The Partnership will create important opportunities for advancing favorable policies and commercialinvestments in support of these goals, including in natural gas markets", the statement added. 

Perry, it would seem had a large shopping basket for India. Pradhan, it would seem, was more keen to be seen as an amiable host. The lopsided results are a reflection of the edge USA has gained in the Indian markets.