Remarks at the U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue Summit Reception

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Andrew Mellon Auditorium
Washington, DC
September 21, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you, Dr. Aghi. I’m very appreciative. Thank you all. Thank you for a standing ovation. I want you to know that Winston Churchill, who had no small part in some of your lives a very long time ago, once said that the only reason that people give a standing ovation is that they desperately need an excuse to shift their underwear. (Laughter.) So I have learned to take it with a real grain of salt.

I’ve been in public life for more than three, four decades now, and as Joe Biden knows, following anybody is always hard; following Joe Biden is particularly hard. I’m blessed to have a terrific friend as well as a great colleague. I am not going to quote an Irish poet and I do not have a Kerry in India that I know of. (Laughter.)

But I hope you will all nevertheless embrace the passion that I have always shared for the relationship between the United States and India. And in fact, my connection goes back – way back in time when I was a young senator and I brought the first trade delegation of Americans to India right at the time that later-to-be Prime Minister Singh was serving as finance minister and the reforms were just setting in. So I share the Vice President’s deep commitment to India, and I was pleased to work with him when he was chairman of the committee to help pass the nuclear agreement.

It’s a pleasure for me to be joined here this evening by my colleague Penny Pritzker and also by my friend, Minister Sushma Swaraj. Sushma says that she and I represent the long and the short of diplomacy. (Laughter.) And you’ll understand that, if you don’t know her well, later. And I’m also pleased to welcome Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Thank you for being here with us. And we have many other distinguished guests here. I just want to single out Nisha Biswal, our very capable, outstanding assistant secretary of state for South – South and Central Asian affairs. And I want to recognize our terrific ambassador who I worked with many years up on the Hill, Rich Verma, and also the ambassador from India to the United States, Arun Singh. We are really delighted to have you here. Thank you for coming.

It’s a 40th anniversary, and increasingly as the years go by, 40 seems pretty damn young to me. But it’s a great pleasure to recognize the extraordinary work of the U.S.-India Business Council. And all of you here and to many of our very, very capable – beyond capable – globally recognized, extraordinary CEOs who are here of major companies, and so many of you who are forging this relationship, we thank you.

I have learned long ago that when you are a speaker and there are several other speakers to come – and there are, because each of my colleagues is going to have a chance to quickly say hello to you – and we are all that stands between you and a meal, I’m not going to give you a long policy speech. The Vice President talked about our policy eloquently, and as he noted, I’ll just say to you quickly that the excitement that was reflected last January on Republic Day, when President Obama became the first American to be welcomed as the chief guest, was really extraordinary. And there were times when such an honor for a U.S. official would’ve been simply unfathomable.

But we have entered a new era, as the Vice President said, marked by a rapidly developing network of commercial ties, a deep well of affection that is growing between our two peoples, and a genuine warmth at the highest level. I was at the dinner in the White House the Vice President referred to with president – vice – with Prime Minister Modi, and it was really interesting to watch these two men connect as they talked in quite technical terms and in quite in-depth, detailed terms about the profound technology and transformational opportunities that lie before us. It was fun to watch, I will tell you. And needless to say, you know the world has changed when Diwali is brought into the White House and the President and the First Lady dance with children in Mumbai – something, obviously, is happening.

Now, I personally felt that when I was at the Vibrant Gujarat meeting, the summit earlier this year. And while there’s always room for improvement, it’s very, very clear that the climate for bilateral investment and trade has never been better. And that is true in everything from clean energy to aerospace to financial services and movies, where, obviously, Hollywood and Bollywood reign supreme. It’s a great time for innovators, and you heard the Vice President talk about the stunning statistics regarding Indian contribution to American innovation, let alone Indian innovation, and to what is happening today.

But the only thing I want to spend a moment on, if I can, and I want to reinforce what the Vice President said on a topic that I’ve spent 25 years being involved in, and that is this great challenge of climate change. I want to express support for Prime Minister Modi’s plan to help India’s economy become more reliant on renewable sources of power. And it is absolutely critical in the end on pure economic terms, but it’s also smart politically, because a recent survey reported that 73 percent of Indians view climate change as the most pressing global concern.

And as you know, I went to China two years ago. We negotiated an agreement which ultimately the President and President Xi were able to announce last year in Beijing, where China came to the table – a developing country that was opposed to what we were working on in Copenhagen but had come around to understand it was vital to respond on this issue. And they joined us in helping to set goals that we will go to Paris with this December in an effort to reach a global agreement.

Now, for practical businesspeople, let me just say to you: I come from Massachusetts. I had the privilege of representing MIT and Harvard and Boston University and plenty of – about 140 other colleges and universities where there’s an enormous innovative culture, as all of you know. The fact is that in that state, we are way ahead of a number of other places with respect to the understanding of this connection because in the 1990s, the great wealth that was created in the United States of America – much of it came from there and then again from Silicon Valley because it was the technology revolution of personal computers, of personal technology devices and communications, that created the greatest wealth created in the United States since the 1920s when we had no income tax. And during that period of time, we were exploiting a $1 trillion market that had 1 billion users. The energy market of today that is staring us in the face, waiting for people to grab onto, is a $6 trillion market with 4 to 5 billion users today, and it will rise to about 9 billion, if the statistics are correct, over the next 30 to 40 years.

This is the mother of all markets, and it is the most extraordinary opportunity to do something that people in public life rarely get the opportunity to do, and that is to get a – it’s one thing when you make a public policy decision. Jane Harman is here. She’ll tell you if you can get one really good plus-up out of that decision, you can go sell it to your constituents. This is something where for the decision to move towards clean energy, you get numerous plus-ups. You live up to your obligation to future generations to do what we need to do with respect to the environment. We live up to our responsibilities with respect to children who are hospitalized. The greatest cause of hospitalization of children in the United States of America in the summer is environmentally induced asthma. It comes from the quality of air. We clean up the air; people are healthier; less cancer, less particulates in the air.

But you also get the benefit of something called jobs, millions of jobs waiting to be created in the process of the transition which is transformative to alternative renewable other sources of energy as we de-carbonize over a period of time. And it will take a period of time for those countries that are dependent on oil production and gas production. It’s not going to happen overnight.

And you also gain security. There isn’t a nation in the world – look at Europe, dependent on one source for gas, held hostage. Does that have an effect on Ukraine? You bet your boots it does.

So the possibilities of all of these plus-ups – of jobs, your economy, of growth, of making the world more secure, moving to a new economy, of having independence with respect to energy – it’s rare you get an opportunity to sell people that. But it’s also very rare that you have to sell it in the context of a 500-year drought, 500-year floods, extraordinary fires demolishing massive areas of wood and communities, insurance rates going up, insurance payouts going up. If people really factored in the true accounting of global climate change costs, you’d have a very different balance sheet than the one that people operate with today.

So I’d just close by saying to everybody here the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue that we are entering into tomorrow is one the most important that we have with any country on the planet. We are the largest and oldest democracies. We are the countries of innovation and opportunity. We think alike. We believe in human rights and opportunity for people. We have incredible diversity in our counties and tolerance. We have an ability to be able to build this future.

And I believe that each of our countries is – this is really an historic mark and moment, because each of our countries came from the same colonial background. Each of our countries is ethnically and culturally diverse, and each is a laborer for peace, and each seeks a world in which the light of the human spirit overcomes darkness. And although differences of ideology have separated us in the past, and the Vice President referred to that a little bit, the most – we are in the end, and I think that’s what brings you here, the most natural of partners.

So I hope that we will make the most of the opportunity that is staring us in the face, and I hope that India will be the partner with the United States that helps to get the job done for hundreds of millions, billions of people around this planet who are waiting for people to lead in the right direction and to make government live up to its fundamental responsibilities.

Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)