Opportunities are Tremendous, Challenges Exist: Senator Warner

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June 26, 2012

USIBC Celebrates it’s 37th Year with Gala Reception and Summit

By Geeta Goindi

 WASHINGTON – Senator Mark Warner (VA), Democratic co-chair of the powerful Senate India Caucus, sees “tremendous” opportunities for fortifying India-US ties, even as challenges loom on the horizon.

June 26, 2012

USIBC Celebrates it’s 37th Year with Gala Reception and Summit

By Geeta Goindi

 WASHINGTON – Senator Mark Warner (VA), Democratic co-chair of the powerful Senate India Caucus, sees “tremendous” opportunities for fortifying India-US ties, even as challenges loom on the horizon.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia (left), Democratic co-chair of the powerful Senate India Caucus, was warmly welcomed by Ajay Banga, new Chairman of the US-India Business Council, President & CEO of MasterCard Worldwide, at the USIBC gala reception. Photo credit: US Chamber of Commerce

“No relationship between two nations has made more advancement in the last 20 years than the US-India relationship.  We need to continue to work on that”, he told a sizeable gathering at a gala reception hosted by the US-India Business Council, kicking off its 37th Anniversary Leadership Summit.  The events were part of ‘India Week’ in Washington and were held in conjunction with the US-India Strategic Dialogue, co-chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister Mr. S.M. Krishna.

The USIBC reception, in a spacious hall at the US Chamber of Commerce, drew high-ranking government officials, distinguished diplomats and corporate heavyweights of the largest and greatest democracies in the world.  Among the elite gathering were: Francisco Sanchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade; Nancy Powell, America’s first female ambassador to India; Robert O’ Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia in the US State Department; Mr. Sam Pitroda, Advisor to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations; Mr. Arun Kumar Singh, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy; Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Ajay Banga, new Chairman of the US-India Business Council, President & CEO of MasterCard Worldwide; Rom Somers, President of USIBC; delegations from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) as well as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII); and over 300 business leaders keen on strengthening bilateral commercial ties.

The mood seemed to alternate between optimism and skepticism which is not surprising given the turbulence in the world economy and domestic political compulsions in both Delhi and Washington.  Warner, who visited India in January where he led a delegation of US House and Senate members, believed “both governments are facing some challenging times.  How is that for diplomatic comments”, he quipped.

The lawmaker bemoaned the lack of clarity in both nations, noting, “When we were in India, people said, ‘just wait until the state elections are over’.  Well, we still do not have a lot of clarity and we have to wait for our presidential elections to be over for clarity on some of the larger economic issues.  But, the opportunities between our two nations are tremendous”, he added.

Warner was optimistic that the US-India Strategic Dialogue will examine opportunities for: advancing the cause of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT); greater collaboration in education, particularly agreements with community colleges which offer skills training; continued efforts against terrorism; more direct investment in multi-brand retail; and sorting out the issues on the civilian nuclear deal.

The lawmaker admitted, “We, on the American stage, need to do much more in terms of some of the visa challenges we have.  These are areas that we need to work on.  We also have to recognize our relationship that literally 20 years ago was one between two enormous nations, but a relationship that was not built upon a great underlying partnership”.  All that has now changed!

The influential Senator told the jam-packed gathering, “I welcome you all to visit us in the halls of Congress and let’s make sure that the next few years for this wonderful strategic relationship, between these two great nations, continues and prospers”.

While warmly welcoming Warner, USIBC Chairman Banga pointed out that the multi-millionaire entrepreneur is the co-founder of Nextel and an erstwhile Governor of Virginia who turned the state’s fortunes from a budget deficit to a surplus.  “He is the best guy we could have in the Senate to understand what India is capable of doing”, declared Banga, who himself heads a global American iconic company.

Under Secretary Sanchez highlighted the importance of the bilateral commercial relationship when he revealed, “I have taken more trips to India than probably any other country in the world.  India has come a very long way in 60 years, and the US-India relationship has come a long way in the last 20 years”, he said.  “Let’s learn from each other.  Let’s take the foundation that we have and let us move that relationship a bit further”.

At the USIBC gala reception are seen from left to right: Francisco Sanchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade; Ajay Banga, new Chairman of the US-India Business Council, President & CEO of MasterCard Worldwide; and Diane Farrell, Executive Vice President of USIBC

The high-ranking administration official thanked USIBC members “for the important work that you do in moving our commercial relationship a little bit closer each and every day.  We have done a lot, but we have more to do”, he stressed.

Mr. Sam Pitroda, senior advisor to Prime Minister  Singh, was the guest of honor that evening and he implored US government and business leaders to be patient.

“I know the demand, the pressure that comes on us in India”, he said, when it comes to reforms, opening up systems for investment, the insurance and retail sectors.  “But, I think it is important for us to reflect a little on India as we understand it today.  We are a very complex country with lots and lots of diversity, robust democracy, 1.2 billion people and a great deal of pressure from every direction you can think of.  Today, we have a coalition government.  I believe this government has done a great deal, but we don’t get credit for all the work that we have done.  Just in a short span of 60 years, we have been able to build a robust democracy, great deal of institutions and we believe we have a solid foundation to build a nation which all of us will be proud of, in the 21st century.  But, these things take time”, he emphasized.

Pitroda is widely considered to have been responsible for India’s communications revolution.  At the USIBC reception, he recalled, “When I started my work in telecom, we had only 2 million phones for 750 million people.  It used to take 15 years to get a phone connection.  Just in 20 years, we have connected 1.2 billion people and we are a nation today with 900 million mobile phones”, he said, to much applause.

Without mincing any words, Pitroda gets his point across in a clear, concise manner, commanding the attention of listeners.  He told the USIBC gathering, “When I talk to my business friends, I like to remind them that you are trying to build a company while we are focused on building a nation.  And we have a bit of conflict.  You look at productivity, efficiency, cost reduction, logic, profit.  We have a different set of parameters.  We have to worry about our diversity.  We have 400 million people at the bottom of the pyramid.  We have to worry about 550 million young people, below the age of 25".

Stalwarts at the USIBC gala reception: Mr. Sam Pitroda (left), Advisor to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations, widely considered to have been responsible for India’s communications revolution; and Mr. Ajay Banga, new Chairman of the US-India Business Council, President & CEO of MasterCard Worldwide

The pride was unmistakable in his voice when he pointed out, “We are a country with a young population and I see that as the workforce for the world!  Everywhere else, the population is decreasing and aging.  In India, young and growing”!

Assuring corporate America, Prime Minister Singh’s key advisor said, “Of course, we need to worry about building businesses.  Of course, we need to worry about foreign investment.  But, have a little patience.  You don’t need rocket science and great brains to understand the demands business puts on us.  We are very clear, but when we have a coalition government, we have got to keep everybody happy.  If we had a very powerful center, with 200-250 seats, we would be in a different position.  Unfortunately, we are just not there.  So, we have to satisfy our partners and they don’t see it the way we see it.  But, underneath all of this, we are indeed building a very robust foundation”.  In this regard, he noted that $20 billion of government funds will be spent to build information infrastructure to democratize information, and 250,000 local governments will be connected to optical fibre.

Ron Somers, the amiable President of USIBC, greeted the gathering with “Swagatham” (welcome).  He noted that the reception afforded an opportunity for advancing the US-India business relationship which, he said, “is the foundation of the strategic partnership”.

On a lighter note, he mentioned that mangoes have been flown by FedEx all the way from Gujarat for the USIBC meet, much to the delight of the participants!