Promising to push economic reforms, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited US investors to tap "enormous opportunities" in sectors like infrastructure, energy and agriculture, exuding confidence that India would return to 9 per cent growth within two years.
Reaching out to the American business community, he said, virtually all spheres of Indian economy are open for participation by foreign investors and "no investors will be more welcome than investors from this great country".
Singh allayed fears about any rollback of economic reforms, asserting that his government rather plans to push ahead on key reforms in several areas including taxes, education, skill development and legal sector, though it might happen gradually through consensus.
"Wherever I meet businessmen to talk of our plans for the future, the question I am most often asked is whether economic reforms will continue. You should have no doubt on that score," he said last evening while addressing the US-India Business council.
Singh said the growth rate that has slowed down to 6.5 per cent, is expected to get back to around 9 per cent within two years.
"American companies interested in global markets would be well advised to look at India," he said, seeking the US corporates world's collaboration "as we transform India from a low-income country into a vibrant market of over a billion people, with steadily growing purchase power." The council was attended by top US and Indian corporate leaders including Pepsico Chairperson Indra Nooyi, Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani, Tata Chairman Ratan Tata, ICICI Bank MD Chanda Kochar and Bharti Group CMD Sunil Bharti Mittal.
Singh said tax reforms, especially the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax, are a very important part of his government's agenda, along with financial sector reforms.
"We are also committed to major reforms in education and skill development. We have started a programme to raise resources by sale of equity in public sector enterprises. Legal reforms aimed at reducing delays are another priority," the Prime Minister said.
He underlined that the economic reforms of the past have brought India advantages and "I can assure you that we will continue down the road. We might do it gradually, and in a manner which builds a consensus for change. But I assure you we will persevere."
The Prime Minister said his government plans to push ahead on "key reforms in several areas especially those aimed at bringing the deficit under control while ensuring a strong expansion in investment in infrastructure."
Replying to questions after his address, he said, India today is open for business in almost every sphere of economic activity.
In infrastructure and other sectors, he said, "I see enormous opportunities for participation on the part of US business communities, both directly and through public-private partnerships".
Describing infrastructure sector as a "critical bottleneck in our ambitions to realise a growth rate of 9 per cent", Singh said large-scale investments would be required for improving infrastructure, in modernising infrastructure, in expanding infrastructures of roads, of railways, of power, of urban infrastructure, ports, airports.
He identified other sectors open for foreign participation as manufacturing, services, including financial services and information-technology services, agriculture-related activities, agroprocessing and agromarketing.
"So literally, today, all fields of economic activity are virtually open for participation by foreign investors, and I can assure you that no investors will be more welcome in our country than investors from this great country," Singh said.
On economic recession, Singh said India, like other emerging market economies, was affected by the crisis of 2008 and its growth rate decelerated to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09. It will remain at around 6.5 per cent in the current year but "we expected to accelerate from this level and get back to a growth rate of around 9 per cent within two years."
He said there are a number of reasons why he believed the Indian economy will resume rapid growth despite the fact that slower growth in industrialised countries will limit its export possibilities.
Naming the reasons, Singh said,"Our domestic savings rate has increased very substantially and supported an investment rate of 39 per cent in 2007-08, most of it being in private investment. We have ample human resources in terms of labour skills, scientific talent, and management capability".
He said India enjoyed a demographic dividend in terms of a growing working age populations in a world that is aging rapidly. "We have a vibrant and innovative private sector, which operates independently of government."
Singh said rapid and inclusive growth in the years ahead will enable his goverment to achieve its social objectives. "It will also result in a few hundred million people entering the Indian market for a wide range of consumer goods."