India, U.S. look at expanding horizons

Indra Nooyi (left), chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, and Shobhana Bhartia, chairperson and editorial director ofHT Media, delivering the acceptance speech after receiving the USIBC Global Leadership Awards.— Photo: U.S. Chamberof Commerce  

he first India-U.S. Strategic and Commercial Dialogue kicked off in Washington with a high-profile event addressed by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Union Minister of State for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman and attended by 400 business leaders from both countries.

Indian sought to reassure U.S. investors that the Modi government was taking measures to ease doing business in India. The U.S. corporate sector continued to flag weak contract enforcement, unpredictable policy and tax regimes, opaque regulatory mechanisms and rigid labour laws.

The dialogue, established by U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting last year, is taking place even as policy-makers on both sides admit that the bilateral synergy in strategic aspects is not matched in business and commerce. “Since this situation is more because of Indian policies, India must move first and fast,” said Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Mr. Biden, Mr. Kerry and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker lauded the Modi government’s efforts to improve U.S.-India relationship, but all of them called for faster economic reforms.

While U.S. officials were upbeat about the Modi government, its drive against foreign NGOs remains an understated sticking point, said a senior Indian business leader who did not want to be named. “Both our nations have to resist the forces of intolerance and remain vigilant in our efforts to make our democracies stronger and more inclusive. It’s not just the morally right thing to do, it’s the economic necessary thing to do,” the Vice-President said on Monday.

Power Minister Piyush Goyal, who spoke at the event, which also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC), said the Modi government was clear that rather than meeting the individual requirements of particular companies, structural changes were required to form a robust framework that enabled business and commerce.

Mr. Kerry said: “And while there is always room for improvement, it is 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.”

The USIBC announced the launch of US Business Centres in India, which, council president Mukesh Aghi said, would “support the entry of U.S. small and mid-sized companies, universities, and skills providers into the market.”

Leadership awards

Shobhana Bhartia, chairperson and editorial director of HT Media, and Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, received the USIBC Global Leadership Awards at the function. Mr. Aghi said both were honoured for their “contributions and commitment to driving a more inclusive global economy and for their roles as women leaders.” “This is truly a humbling experience,” Ms. Bhartia said after receiving the award. “As the representative of a media group that realizes the importance of looking at both India Shining, and the Other India to get a real picture of what is happening in our country, and as a woman leader in a nation where women are finally coming into their own, I am delighted to receive this award,” she said, adding that there could be increasing opportunities for media and technology companies from India and the U.S to collaborate, “as they navigate the evolving digital landscape.”

Ms. Nooyi said PepsiCo’s partnership with Indian farmers had been gainful for both and there were tremendous opportunities ahead to work together.

It is very, very clear that the climate for bilateral investment and trade has never been better

— JOHN KERRY, U.S. Secretary of State