India-US CEO Forum: Concerns Raised by India Inc.

India-US CEO Forum: Concerns Raised by India Inc.

While looking at a broader perspective of Mr Obama’s India visit, Indian business fraternity welcomed the dialogue between India and the US.

Mr. Ajay Shriram, President, Confederation of Indian Industry welcomed the comments made by both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama at the US-India Business Summit that was organized in New Delhi.

Agreeing with President Obama’s observation that the economies of our two countries are interlinked, he stated that the real need of the hour is to diversify the bilateral trade basket. The top 20 items in our bilateral merchandise trade basket currently accounts for close to 90% of the total. Mr. Shriram stated that some of the measures announced by President Obama such as the US EXIM Bank’s programme to extend US$1 billion in loans to help promote US companies export to India, OPIC’s programme to enhance lending to small businesses in the US seeking to do business in India as well as the US Trade Development Authority’s plan to extend loans worth $ 2 billion for investment in renewable energy would all go to reverse this trend.

Mr. Shriram also hoped that the newly announced US – India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue will convene soon to chart out the path for enhanced US – India bilateral economic cooperation.

He also welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to making the business environment in India easier and more predictable. In this regard, he welcomed the new cell being set up in the PMO to fast track US investments in India. It is these steps, Mr. Shriram pointed out, that will help step up the US’s engagement in the Indian economy.

However, on the other hand, in the CEO’s interaction part of the India-US Business Summit, India’s top industrialists split among themselves issues of concern to the two countries and spoke on relevant areas only instead of speaking on all of them. At the roundtable that preceded address by Obama and Modi, the Indian CEOs were allotted total time of only 18 minutes. Sources privy to the discussions said 5 CEOs spoke for two minutes each, followed by an open discussion where the other CEOs got an opportunity to air their views.

While HDFC’s Deepak Parekh spoke on bilateral ease of doing business, Sunil Mittal of Bharti Enterprises focused on electronic cluster development and smart cities. Reliance Industries Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani covered agriculture, innovation and skill development. Biocon Chairman and MD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw highlighted pharma and IPR issues plaguing the business relationship between the two nations. Parekh, they said, also spoke on visa restrictions.

Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) Chairman and Managing Director Dinesh K Sarraf talked about India-US not having a free-trade agreement (FTA) hampering import of liquefied natural gas (LNG). India is seeking long term assured supply of natural gas from the US at competitive prices to meet its energy needs but Washington bars sale of LNG to nations with which it does not have FTA. Sarraf also raised the issue of Indian firms attracting US sanctions for investing in third countries like Russia and Iran.

ONGC is yet to enter into US upstream sector as it fears for its investment given the fact that it has business in many countries which may fall under restrictions due to change in geopolitics.

In the open discussion that followed, Kumar Mangalam Birla spoke on challenges faced by Indian companies investing in the US while Mahindra Group head Anand Mahindra dwelled on defence and single window clearance, sources said. ICICI chief executive Chanda Kochhar talked about the American tax evasion law, FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) as well as other banking issues.