US-India trade body’s new chief bullish about business relations

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jan 16, 2015 14:37 IST

The increasingly influential US-India Business Council has a new chief — Mukesh Aghi — and he believe the two countries can potentially take bilateral trade into an entirely different orbit.

Aghi, 56, believes trade should be in the range of half a trillion dollars. He refused to commit himself to a timeline, but stressed in an interview it was a completely achievable target.

He takes charge in March, but is keenly following the recent surge in interactions, on both political and business levels, leading up to President Barack Obama’s coming visit.

“The president has sent an important message by coming to India twice while still in office and as the first US president to be chief guest at the Republic Day parade,” he said.

The two countries could use the opportunity, he said he hopes, to target some big-ticket issues such as the Bilateral Investment Treaty, which has had a remarkably intractable past.

“Mukesh Aghi’s experience will be invaluable as he leads USIBC in strengthening and expanding U.S.-India business ties in the critical years ahead for the bilateral relationship,” said Ajay Banga, USIBC chairman, announcing the appointment.

Aghi takes over the presidency of the council from Ron Somers, who left to pursue business opportunities after a roller-coaster ride that ended in the midst of an anti-India wave.

India was being pilloried then over its intellectual property rights (IPR) regime and trade issues by US business bodies led by the powerful US chamber of commerce.

It underwent two simultaneous investigations, one by the US trade representative and the other by the US international trade commission, and survived with mixed results.

The council went through testing times too, uniquely burdened by seemingly conflicting loyalties to two masters — businesses of the United States and India respectively.

Aghi disagrees fundamentally with the premise of a conflict in the council’s loyalties. He believes it must strike a balance, and represent equally all its members, irrespective of their flag.

He is committed to working with the US chamber of commerce, he said despite past issues, and met its powerful chairman Tom Donohue during his selection process.

“We are excited to bring Dr. Aghi’s talent and leadership to the USIBC as the council further develops the relationship between these two very important economies,” said Donohue.

Aghi grew up in Uttar Pradesh and left India for higher studies, first in Lebanon and then the US, where he stayed on to work in various companies — after a stint on the Hill.

He is modest about that experience of working on Capitol Hill, but will find himself drawing upon that experience and friends and acquaintances he made there to help the council.

The Hill has played a critical role in most of recently testy issues in India-US business relations — lawmakers signed petitions against India’s trade and patent regimes.

And they hold the key to the most significant US trade issue for India — immigration reform to end cap on the entry of highly skilled Indians, specially in the IT sector.

Read more about Mukesh Aghi here .

(Full disclosure: Mukesh Aghi is on the board of HT Media which owns Hindustan Times)

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