Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump: Who is better for India?

It is perhaps safe to assume that the progress made over the last few years would ensure a degree of continuity in Indo-US relations that will weather any change in leadership. However, this is not to deny the fact that who the new incumbent of the White House is will make some difference.


While Donald Trump and his policies are the great unknown, his stance on both trade and immigration has been clearly hawkish. However, it is important to note that this is not India-specific. In the Indian context, his stance on economic relations and immigration has in fact been ambivalent. On one hand he said, “India is doing great. Nobody talks about it” (in an interview to CNN in January 2016); on the other hand, he said he was going to “bring back jobs from India”. On immigration, Trump has spoken about ending the


H-1B high-skilled visa programme of which Indians are the biggest beneficiaries; but he has also said he would create opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs and students.


Hillary Clinton has portrayed herself as a strong supporter of immigrant rights. She has called for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a means for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status. Her automatic green card proposal to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students, who complete a master’s degree or a PhD from a US university, bodes well for India. There are around 132,888 Indian students in the US currently, most of them in the STEM category.


From a purely political perspective on Pakistan, Trump’s stand is somewhat difficult to fathom. His statements have been somewhat erratic. “Pakistan is semi-unstable. We have a little bit of a good relationship. I think I’d try and keep it,” Trump said in April. “If you look at India and some of the others, maybe they’ll be helping us out.” It would perhaps be naïve to read too much into such off-the-cuff remarks. In contrast, Clinton has consistently prodded Pakistan on being a terrorist haven.


As far as political relations with India are concerned, a thumb rule that foreign policy analysts tend to go by is that a Republican incumbent in the White House is better for India than a Democrat. Indeed, some of the major diplomatic milestones such as the nuclear deal during the George W Bush-Manmohan Singh regime were struck during a Republican presidency.


That said, Clinton could be an exception. For one thing, her ties with India go back a long way when she was First Lady during her husband’s presidency. As secretary of state in the Barack Obama administration (2009-13), she stood by India on many occasions. During her tenure, the US and India worked to ensure closer cooperation in high technology areas, particularly defence and space. In that sense, given that the Indian leadership is familiar with Clinton and her foreign policies, the predictability and comfort quotient is expected to be higher if she were to assume the Presidential office.


However, in focusing on the minutiae we might just be ignoring the gorilla in the room — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a trade agreement among 12 of the Pacific Rim countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, Japan among the bigger economies, and Chile, Mexico, Vietnam, Singapore among the smaller ones. Two major economies in the region — China and South Korea — are not part of the TPP. It is currently awaiting ratification by each country to come into effect. Since India is not a signatory to the TPP, the agreement is expected to impact Indian businesses, as it could hurt the market for Indian products and services.


Trump and Clinton have both opposed the TPP in their election campaigns. However, Clinton is known for her flip-flops on trade deals. She supported the North American Free Trade Agreement when it was introduced, but called it a “mistake” during her 2008 presidential campaign. Similarly, as Obama’s secretary of state, she once called the TPP the “gold standard” for international trade agreements. Thus, a Clinton presidency brings the risk of creating a large club of trading partners of which India is not a member. That’s certainly not something we can ignore. Abheek Barua is chief economist, HDFC Bank. Bidisha Ganguly is chief economist, CII

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