NEW DELHI: Taking forward his plans for India’s economic recovery, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on a massive charm offensive with America’s corporate elite.
Over the coming weekend, Modi is scheduled to meet a select group of 10 CEOs for a breakfast meeting as well as have one-on-one interactions with five key corporate and finance leaders in New York — including Ginni Rometty of IBM, Jeff Immelt of GE and Marilyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin — to interest them in investing in India. Modi is scheduled to address the UN general assembly on September 27.
If New York is all about connecting with the Indian diaspora and wooing business, Washington DC will mark the political outreach by a man shunned by the US for a decade. On September 29, Modi will be at the White House for an exclusive dinner — though not a state dinner — with US President Barack Obama and his top cabinet colleagues Susan Rice, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel among others.
But here too, Modi has scheduled a special meeting with corporate America in Washington at the Chamber of Commerce which is part of a US-India Business Council reception for the Indian PM. Generally, Indian leaders have addressed the CEOs’ Forum (a group of Indian and American CEOs) but this time this private sector body is absent. It’s all about US business.
A poster to promote the Community Reception hosted by Indian American Community Foundation.
Sources said unlike in the past few years when events like this had many empty seats, this year, tickets to the event are hard to find and they are “pay for play”. US commerce secretary Penny Pritzker and other cabinet members are set to attend the event, where Modi should expect to be quizzed on his economic recovery plans, budget disappointment and his reform priorities. He should expect to answer questions on retroactive taxes and WTO.
India does not have friends among the US administration’s economic branch; in fact, it ranks right at the top among USTR’s list of “baddies”. The US has already imposed sanctions on India for solar imports, and India’s recent stance at the WTO on the trade facilitation agreement has lost it more friends in DC. Therefore, Modi will have to work extra hard to convince sceptical US CEOs that India is indeed reopened for business. Just last week, US official Nisha Biswal said India “does itself a discredit” by blocking the trade facilitation agreement. Biswal said the stance “undermines India’s interests as well as the interests of… many developing countries and emerging economies”.
India’s demand on a totalization agreement with the US is unlikely to see the light of day soon. The civil nuclear space will be dominated by two things that will block progress — first, continuing complaints about India’s nuclear liability law and second, India’s grouse that the US is sitting on the administrative arrangements for the nuclear deal.
However, Isro is preparing to sign a space agreement with Nasa. India’s Chandrayaan carried US payloads opening the way for some of this agreement.
It’s on climate change and clean energy that India and the US have the best chance of a bilateral understanding. It is close to Modi’s heart and might be the only worthwhile legacy that Obama can look forward to. Like Japan and Singapore, the US too wants a piece of the action on Modi’s pet project of smart cities, but there will be little government funds to back this. India will have to go back to Wall Street for both technology and finance.
With India opening the door to private sector participation in defence as well as increasing FDI limits, there is keen interest in working on almost a dozen US proposals under the Ash Carter-Shivshankar Menon initiative DTTI (Defence Trade and Technology Initiative). Of all of them, a proposal to manufacture the Javelin, an anti-tank guided missile, is the only one that shows some signs of life. But details on this will only be revealed when defence minister Arun Jaitley visits the US in October. Both sides, though, will be occupied with renewing a landmark defence framework agreement which expires in 2015.