India and the US have pledged to together "try to reach for the stars" in fostering a stronger strategic partnership with enhanced bilateral trade and investment and economic, social and innovation linkages.
The pledge was made by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as they opened the US-India CEO Forum, charged with "development of an ambitious, challenging set of recommendations" at the behest of the two governments.
"Our ambitions must go beyond the economy," said Mukherjee asking the captains of industry "to strive for inclusiveness not only in our individual nations and corporations but in the world and across nations."
"I know that this sounds as if I am trying to reach for the stars," he said. "I want to assure you that that is exactly what I am doing. Together we must try to reach for the stars."
Clinton agreed, noting that both President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had time and again stressed that "increased cooperation between the United States and India is the cornerstone of our 21st century strategic partnership."
"We look forward to translating a lot of those very important policies into reality and reaching for those stars together," she said pointing to the "need to work very hard to translate a lot of the great ideas... into accomplishments and realities" for Obama's India visit in November.
Co-chaired by Tata group chairman Ratan Tata from the Indian side and Honeywell chief executive David M. Cote from the US side, the forum with 12 top CEOs from each side, has recommended several "interesting and ambitious ideas" in four core areas: (i) Infrastructure; (ii) Clean Energy; (iii) Education and (iv) e-Health/Biotechnology.
Among the deliverables recommended for the Obama visit were "creation of $10 billion debt fund for development of infrastructure in India, collaboration under the National Solar Mission of India, a long term initiative on diabetes research and treatment, linkages between educational institutions and joint research in clean energy, including bio-fuels."
The forum opened after a meeting between Clinton, Mukherjee, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia where "they discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, including trade, investment and other economic matters."
From the US side, Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Obama's top economic advisers Mike Froman and Larry Summers, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner joined the discussions at the forum.
Painting a rosy picture of India's long-run growth prospect, Mukherjee, said: "For the first time it appears entirely within the realm of the possible that India will break into double-digit growth within the next five years" after a predicted growth rate of 8.5 percent in 2010-11.
"At this opportune moment India offers investment opportunities in excess of $850 billion over the next five years," he said. "In the infrastructure sector, we envisage investment at US$ 1 trillion between 2012-13 and 2016-17, with a potential funding gap of 25-30 percent bridged through innovative modes of financing."
Describing the relationship with the US "as one of the most important bilateral relationships for India today," Mukherjee said the "trust that we have built through our 100 percent compliance record in the safeguarding of imported technology should help us to increase our bilateral high technology trade."
Earlier, opening the forum discussions, Clinton said Obama and Manmohan Singh had "reinvigorated this forum last year based on the idea that Washington and Delhi need to catch up to the business and innovation cooperation that is already happening in New York and Mumbai."
Citing a report by the India-US World Affairs Institute showing that Indian investment in the US grew by an estimated 60 percent in 2009, to over $7 billion and that since 2004 Indian acquisitions in the United States have supported approximately 40,000 jobs in US, she said: "That's great progress and it's a solid base on which to build."
"We want to turn recommendations for improving access to education into reality. We want to lay the groundwork for future cooperation to fight climate change, develop clean energy solutions, and so much more," Clinton said.