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Rediff.com  » Business » US trade team to learn Mumbai dabbawallahs' secrets

US trade team to learn Mumbai dabbawallahs' secrets

Last updated on: February 4, 2011 15:53 IST

US trade team to learn Mumbai dabbawallahs' secrets

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's robust schedule of meetings in Mumbai this week, which includes a bilateral with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India Dr D Subbarao and senior officials at the Department of Atomic Energy and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, in addition to speeches to the Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the National Association of Software and Service Companies, will also be punctuated with an interaction with the dabbawallahs or tiffin caterers.

Locke, who will be leading a high-tech trade mission of 24 US Businesses, which includes Fortune 500 companies and also small and medium enterprises, which will make stops in New Delhi and Bangalore too, before arriving in Mumbai on February 10, the next day, according to the Department of Commerce, will meet with the dabbawallahs "to learn about the unique Tiffinwallah logistics operation that delivers home cooked food to thousands of people daily."

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Image: US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

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"This lunch delivery service has been cited as a model of entrepreneurship and supply chain management at the grassroots level," the Commerce Department noted.

At a media roundtable with journalists on the eve of his trip, Locke said he was looking forward to his interaction with the dabbawallahs or the tiffinwallahs as the Commerce Department described them because "it's an exciting process by which they distribute the food and things like that."

"So, we really want to get a really good flavor of just the life and culture of India," he added.

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Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
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Locke, who accompanied President Obama to India in November and was by his side throughout that visit, and will be the first cabinet secretary to visit India since Obama's historic trip, said, "The fact that this is the first trade mission since that visit, simply underscores the importance that we attach to the commercial relationship between our two nations."

He predicted that the lifting of curbs on Indian entities like ISRO and DRDO and their subordinates and companies like Bharat Dynamics Limited last month in implementing export control policy initiatives announced by Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November, "has really opened the door for increased high technology trade and  cooperation between the US and India and the people of our trade mission is to take advantage of that opened door."

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Image: President Barack Obama and Gary Locke
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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Locke said that removing the Indian entities from the DOC's Entity List now means that India is being treated "similarly to our closes allies and our trading partners."

"This is really an indication of the strategic importance that the United States places on the relationship with India," he said, "and we believe that these steps will lead to even greater opportunities for the trade of high technology and space trade."

Locke  said, "Expanding our exports to India represents the kind of mutually beneficial trade that creates jobs in both India and the United States and will help improve the quality of life for the people of India."

"So this is really a win-win opportunity for the people and business of both the countries. The benefits are just enormous," he said.

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Photographs: Reuters
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But Locke argued that "to take advantage of these opportunities, India itself will have to take some further steps to open its economy, including a variety of tariff and non-tariff barriers, lifting restrictions of foreign direct investment and improving protection of intellectual property."

"These are concerns that the US and indeed, other international businesses have," he said, but acknowledged "they are not going to be resolved immediately or quickly, but we aim to start that process to get more work done through the trade mission."

And, not to sound too negative vis- -vis Washington's concerns, Locke declared, "No doubt, India is moving in the right direction," and predicted that "we will be able to work through a lot of these issues."

"When you look at the last 20 years, I mean, India has opened its economy and even come farther and faster than anyone could have imagined," he added, and noted that despite the enormous challenges that still exist with its massive population and efforts to raise the standard of living for its people, "India has really made great strides."

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Photographs: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters
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Locke said, "As the President indicated, India is no longer an emerging power-India has emerged."

When asked by rediff.com, considering that there were companies in the delegation that were looking to grab a piece of the civilian nuclear trade market-if the nuclear liability law passed by the Indian parliament that the US has raised concerns over, would be a damper.

Locke said, "Obviously, you will have to talk to these companies themselves to understand and determine just how far they are willing to go given the status of the law in India."

He said that while India has "signed off or agreed to the international convention, they need to make sure that their laws are consistent with that convention."

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Image: Guests hold the flags of the United States and India as U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters
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"Whether or not India makes enough changes or whether enough US companies feel that the protections are there, and how consistent they are with international convention, are up to these individual companies," he reiterated.

However, Locke said, "We certainly welcome what India is doing and we very much believe that nuclear energy has great potential in India and there are many companies from around the world that are interested in helping India supply energy and bring energy to all parts of India.

And, as the Indian economy grows, it's going to need electricity and it's going to need it from a variety of non-plotting sources-whether wind, solar, nuclear-and we are pleased that we have some of the best companies in the world that not only build the actual facilities, but also supply many of the components and parts that go into nuclear power plants, whether it's the US design or some other countries' design."

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Photographs: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
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Asked as to what the expectation is for any specific deals that may be announced during the trip and what the dollar figures could be, Locke was circumspect. "They are all in different stages of commercial relationships with India," he said of the companies that constituted the trade mission.

"Some of them are buying for specific contracts with other businesses in India, others are simply trying to develop the relationship and want to be known and so, being part of the trade mission gives them that exposure."

"And of course, we have a lot of matchmaking programs lined up," he said, but added, "I cannot give you a figure right now, but we will definitely give you a figure by the end."

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Asked why he was meeting with the RBI Governor when that was under the purview of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Locke said, "We want to convey the policies of the United States and issues that we have. So, we want to just maintain that government to government dialogue on all economic issues."

But when pressed to be more specific, he said, "We are interested in opening up of financial services and opening up the services sector in India. So, it's an opportunity to promote a variety of services and technologies and products that American companies offer to India."

Locke during his visit is slated to meet with the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma, Minister of Civil Aviation, Vayalar Ravi, and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

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Photographs: Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters
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In Delhi, he will also deliver the keynote address in a luncheon hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry.

In Bangalore, he will visit and participate in a news conference at the Aero India Show, where the US pavilion will have its largest presence to date and will be the largest foreign presence at this major international military aviation trade extravaganza.

The Commerce Secretary will also visit Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, India's premier aerospace manufacturing company to see firsthand how US partnerships and HAL are contributing to India's aviation industry and generation jobs both in India and the US.

He will also visit with senior officials of ISRO and hold a town hall style event with students focused on innovation and the knowledge economy at the Indian Institute of Science before leaving for Mumbai, where he will also meet with Indian CEOs who are part of the US-India CEO Forum.

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Image: Gary Locke to visit and participate in a news conference at the Aero India Show

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