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Corporate America urges Obama Administration to embrace India

Washington: As India’s top Cabinet Ministers and industry leaders landed in Washington for crucial talks with their US counterparts in Washington, Corporate America on Wednesday urged the Obama Administration to embrace India as a knowledge partner.

“India’s leadership has arrived in the US this week. American business and government officials should reach out and remind them of the promise of the US-India partnership — a close friendship that will shape the economic destiny of the 21st Century,” said Ron Somers, the President of the US-India Business Council.

“We must embrace India as our knowledge partner by endorsing movement of technical professionals, an activity essential to our common, bright future,” he said.

“Acknowledging that American companies can more effectively compete on the world stage by teaming with their Indian counterparts is a smart way to start this constructive conversation.

“Such knowledge partnering will propel growth, enabling our companies to maintain their primacy. A ‘win-win’ dynamic of job creation will accrue to both sides,” Somers said.

Somers reminded the American leadership that India is implementing bilateral trade agreements with several countries, which would result in lost opportunities for US firms unless steps were taken. “A deal with Japan went into force in August. South Korea and Singapore, too, have executed agreements with India, while negotiations with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand continue. An expansion of an agreement with ASEAN is in the offing. Never to be accused of thinking small, India is pressing ahead to negotiate an FTA with Europe. The point: India’s trade agenda is really on the move,” he said.

“This leaves us in a quandary, as even clearing the pending FTAs with Columbia, Panama, and Korea proves difficult. By not moving forward, American businesses stand to suffer even more than they already have.

“Magnify this ten-fold or more relative to India and just imagine the lost opportunity as other economies pair up with the world’s largest free-market democracy, leaving the US behind,” Somers said.

Observing that the November, 2010, India visit of US President Barack Obama was historic, Somers said to take the relationship to an entirely new level, the next step should be to forge a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the countries.

“This will protect US investment into India, where our firms can tap into India’s vast market, while providing an incentive for Indian investment flowing into the United States,” he said.

In this regard, Somers cited Reliance Industries’ investment in Pennsylvania and Texas, as will Essar’s USD 1.5 billion investment in Minnesota and West Virginia.
The Tata Group will also be more inclined to increase investment in the US, as will Wipro, Mahindra, Infosys, Wellspun, Ranbaxy, Thermax and a dozen other companies, the USIBC President said.

“A BIT between the two countries will facilitate greater two-way opportunity for investment, leading to export-led growth and jobs for both sides,” Somers said.

Boeing has already sold nearly USD 20 billion in civilian and military aircraft to India in the last five years, including a recently clinched USD 4.1 billion deal for supply of transport aircraft to India.

Lockheed Martin concluded a similar sale of aircraft to India last year, he added. Furthermore, the US Export-Import Bank is on the verge of achieving financial closure for one of the world’s largest combined cycle gas-fired power plants based in India, which will use GE turbines, he said.

Honeywell, UTC, Caterpillar and even California almond and pistachio farmers all have similar export stories to share, Somers said. “The bounty is limitless,” he emphasised.

Somers said the USIBC has formed a working group to flesh out the contours of a bilateral trade and investment arrangement. “Such an arrangement should consider movement of technical professionals, facilitating ’round the clock’ innovation, where intellectual property is rewarded and protected and where market access is enjoyed by both sides, and importantly, where environment and labour are respected,” he said.

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