Obama, Modi may address top CEOs in 2 back-to-back meets

  • Gaurav Choudhury, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 17, 2015 14:21 IST

From smart cities to defence procurement, from the ‘Make in India’ initiative to retrospective taxes, business and economy will feature high on Barack Obama’s agenda in his second visit to India. The US President and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are likely to address top CEOs in two back-to-back meetings.

The first of these will be under the Indo-US CEOs forum, which was instituted in 2010 during Obama’s first visit to India.

This will be the fifth meeting of the forum, a government-to-government initiative, and will be held on January 26, shortly after the Republic Day celebrations are over, mirroring the importance of business in the broader calculus of Indo-US strategic relations, top sources told HT.

Both countries will likely define the specifics for achieving a bilateral trade target of $500 billion by 2020 from about $100 billion currently.

David Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell, a $40-billion diversified technology and manufacturing conglomerate, will co-chair the meeting along with Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry.

Several CEOs of top Fortune 500 companies including Mcgraw Hill Financial chairman Harold “Terry” Mcgraw, PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi and MasterCard president and CEO Ajay Banga will be part of the business-delegation that will visit India alongside President Obama.

Obama and Modi is likely to follow this up with another meeting with CEOs the next day organised by the US-India Business Council (USIBC), an influential industry lobby group of top companies from both the countries, sources said.

“Smart cities, defence procurement, retrospective taxes, digital inclusion and ‘Make in India’ will feature in the discussions,” USIBC acting president Diane Farell told HT in a phone interview. “Some of the discussions would get granular, particularly on smart cities related to Ajmer, Vishakapatnam and Allahabad,” Farrell added.

Several US companies such as Cisco, IBM, Lockheed Martin and Dell with proven expertise in smart cities’ projects are keen on partnering India in the development of such units.

Some of these companies have a “lot of terrific capabilities” in creating smart cities, Farrell said.

In their joint statement in September, Obama and Modi had identified Ajmer, Vishakapatnam and Allahabad as areas with potential to develop smart cities.

During discussions, US firms will likely cite challenges that they face and may come in the way of successful implementation of ‘Make in India’ and Digital India programmes, Farrell said.

Modi launched the ‘Make in India’ initiative in September, vowing to remove bureaucratic sloth, reduce red tape and turn India into a manufacturing powerhouse.

The Digital India is an umbrella initiative to empower all through technological inclusion.

Besides, while the government has said India will not bring on fresh cases of retrospective taxes, there is still some anxiety among MNCs about it, Farrell said.

In 2012, India changed laws to impose taxes on older corporate deals such as British telecom giant Vodafone’s acquisition of Hutchison Whampoa’s telecom assets in India. The move had sparked fears that the country was unwelcome to investors, hurting India’s image as a growth hotspot.

Retrospective taxes and intellectual property rights (IPR) over patented drugs and other products will likely feature in the meetings, Farrell said.

In recent years, Indian companies producing cheaper versions of patented medicines have had repeated run-ins with global drug regulators over issues of hygiene and process violations.

India is seeking to regain the lost ground as an investors’ darling, particularly among US companies. Besides, software services companies, which earn a bulk of their combined $120-billion revenues from outsourcing projects from the US, has been pressing for easier entry rules to the US for their employees.

“The Trade and Economic Relations Committee (TERC) under the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) is pushing for an early resolution of the long-pending immigration law and visa fees issue,” an official said.

On the trade side, the four working groups already in place on agriculture, IPR, manufacturing and services are also expected to have a greater dialogue during Obama’s visit.

US companies are expected to announce investments especially in sectors such as manufacturing, defence and aviation, another official in the industry ministry confirmed without sharing names and deal details.

Besides, companies such as Lockheed Martin have shown interest in investing in defence manufacturing in India, sources said. “Some of the new ventures are expected to be announced in areas of BPO, retail, transportation and financial services. Energy also remains on the top of the agenda,” a source said.

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