Navigating New Challenges: Modi urges U.S. investors to “Come be a part of this journey with us”

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Indian PM Narendra Modi speaking at the Sept. 3, 2020 US-India Strategic Partnership Forum’s US-India Summit. Photo: videograb Twitter @narendramodi

More than 67,000 viewers tuned in to listen to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi make his case to foreign investors Sept. 3, 2020, at the United States-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF). The India Week seminar  Aug. 31-Sept. 4 featured top Indian and American officials including Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, and a stellar line of business executives.

Within minutes after his speech ended, the number of viewers tuning in to see the video had jumped to more than 100,000.

In the days before Modi’s speech, Vice President Mike Pence, in a conversation with Chairman of USISPF John Chambers, from the White House, set the stage for a mutual admiration conference, saying relations between the two democracies had never been stronger, that PM Modi and President Trump had strengthened it, and that the U.S.-India partnership in the Indo-Pacific was critical.

Vice President Mike Pence in conversation with USISPF Chairman John Chambers Aug. 31, 2020 (Photo videograb from YouTube)

The USISPF is a non-profit organization with the stated goal of creating a “powerful strategic partnership between the U.S. and India.” The theme of this year’s one-week summit was “US-India: Navigating New Challenges” which Modi said was apt because “When 2020 began, did anyone imagine this is how it would pan out?”

Modi struck all the right chords for an audience eager to hear about his government’s current and future plans to make ease of business a reality. He also touted his government’s commitment to keeping its promises.

“For challenges in India you have a government that believes in delivering results. A government for which ease of living is as important as ease of doing business,” Modi said to an audience that has heard this promise several times, and expressed skepticism about New Delhi’s commitment and the pace of bringing about economic reforms.

Modi reiterated talking points that leaders have stressed over the years including the ‘demographic dividend’.

“You are looking at a young country,” where 65 percent of the population is below 35 years of age, “an aspirational country” which is “looking to take India to new heights.”

Modi also took an indirect stab at China when he said U.S. investors would get in India “political stability  and policy continuity. A country with commitment to democracy and diversity, adding, “Come be a part of this journey with us.”

He began by dwelling on India’s efforts to weather the storm of the pandemic, with added natural disasters like floods, two cyclones and a massive locust attack.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister said, has affected many aspects of life in India, but it has “not affected the aspirations and ambitions of 1.3 billion people.”

“Far reaching” reforms had been carried out in the recent months, Modi said, to make doing business easier and reducing ‘red-tapism.’ Work was ongoing on the world’s rail, road, and air connectivity; on creating a unique digital model to build a national digital health structure; a banking system using world class technology and best global practices.

While the globe experienced a 1 percent decline in foreign direct investment, India saw a 20 percent increase, he said.

“The world believes in us,” Modi asserted, noting India had received $20 in FDI this year. India offers transparent and predictable tax regimes, and various regulations governing insolvency and bankruptcy reduce the risks of investing, he contended. And labor laws being implemented would provide reliability, he promised.

“The importance of investment in driving growth cannot be overestimated,” the Prime Minister said adding that his goal was to make India the lowest tax regime for foreign investors.

“Companies are looking for reliability and policy stability – India has all of thee qualities,” Modi said, adding that big business like Google and Amazon had announced longterm plans for India.

He said he wanted to make India the lowest tax destination for foreign investors, and pledged continuing regulatory reforms in bon markets, tax exemptions to sovereign funds and pension funds, etc.

“All of the above will ensure a brighter and more prosperous tomorrow,” he added.

The people of India, he said have embarked on one mission – to make an ‘atma nirbhar’ or self-reliant India.

India’s strength’s act as a ‘global multiplier’ the Prime Minister said. It was committed to global welfare and global responsibility despite its own needs, he added, pointing to generic drug manufacturing, and being at the forefront of vaccine research for Covid.

In India, “The road ahead is full of opportunities in public and private sectors,” the Prime Minister said.

Vice President Pence during his ‘fireside chat’ with Chambers, touched on issues bedevilling the bilateral relations, particularly immigration, indicating President Trump had a plan if elected to a a second term, of overhauling the immigration system to make it merit based.

Pence indicated the U.S.-India relationship had nowhere else to go but up. “While the relationship has grown dramatically over the last 20 years, we think the best is yet to come,” Pence said crediting Modi and President Donald Trump with building strong ties. Pence also praised the 4 million Indian-Americans for their contribution to the relationship.

With the Chinese incursions on the border with India, the U.S. has sided with New Delhi. Trump reiterated his country’s commitment to a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific. “While we saw China with the On Belt, One Road initiative, under President Trump’s leadership, we reaffirmed our commitment to the economies of the region,” and to U.S.’ interest in partnering with India.

Ajay Banga, president and CEO of Mastercard, and member of the Board of Directors of USISPF, introducing former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley Sept. 1, 2020, at USISPF 3rd annual India Week. (Photo: videograb from usispf youtube video)

Pence also said America was ‘open for business’ to those from India looking to invest here.

Ambassador Haley, in her speech Sept. 1, also praised the Indian diaspora and the success of Indian-Americans in business, and urged the community to become more visible and proud of its accomplishments.

On the foreign policy front, Haley said the U.S. was now finding out who its ‘real’ friends are through its Indo-Pacific policy. Haley called the U.S. ‘naive’ for not recognizing China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. thought “if we open doors to China, it would become more like the West, that China would become more democratic.

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun,left, being introduced by Ambassador Richard Verma Aug. 31, 2020 at USISPF India Week Photo videograb from USISPF video)

Deputy Secretary Biegun, who was introduced by former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma who moderated the Q & A session, noted the upcoming 20th anniversary of the visit of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s ‘historic’ visit to Washington, D.C., when the statue of Mahatma Gandhi was installed in front of the Indian Embassy and stands as a “proud monument” to the relationship.

” Four U.S. presidents and three Indian prime ministers – all from different political persuasions – have invested in the U.S.-India partnership over the last two decades,” Biegun noted.

“As the fulcrum of global geopolitics and economics shifts to the Indo-Pacific, our partnership with India has become all the more vital,” he added. “And India has shown tremendous leadership and interest in contributing in its own right to the Indo-Pacific strategy we’re advancing,” he said.

India and the United States have deepened their security cooperation, and are in the process of “seeking an even broader economic relationship and through” through trade liberalization.

“And we’re also working very closely in the security sphere, most recently India clearly indicating an intention to invite Australia to participate in the Malabar naval exercises, which will be a tremendous step forward in ensuring the freedom of passage and the security of the seas in the Indo-Pacific.”

He also pointed to the non-partisan approach and commitment of American and Indian leaders, to the bilateral relationship.

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