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USIBC calls for US-India investment pact

March 06, 2009 16:22 IST

Ron Somers, president of the US-India Business Council, has said that the top priority on his organisation's wish list for the Obama Administration is that "we are intent on seeing a bilateral investment treaty executed between our countries."

In his welcoming remarks to nearly 500 guests attending a luncheon discussion on the Asia Society's Task Force Report on 'Delivering on the Promise: Advancing US Relations with India,' hosted by the USIBC, Somers also said that the USIBC "strongly endorses the appointment of an Indian American to a prominent post in the US Commerce Department -- one who could champion US-India trade and commerce -- recognizing the new global economic order."

"After all, by 2050, the three strongest economies will be China, United States, and India," he added.

Several Indian American organisations had been hoping and lobbying for Indra Nooyi, chairman of CEO of PepsiCo and current chairman of USIBC, to be appointed by President Obama as his Commerce Secretary. During the campaign and after Obama's election as President, Nooyi, was among some top Fortune 500 company CEOs who had met with Obama for an interaction and brainstorming session.

Obama's first choice for Commerce Secretary however, was New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, but he had to withdraw in the wake of a grand jury investigation into one of his top campaign contributors.

The President then reached across the aisle and nominated Republican Senator Jugg Gregg of New Hampshire, but he too withdrew after having differences with the Obama Administration's stimulus package, and more importantly over the new Administration decision to move the Census Bureau from the Commerce Department to the White House.

Obama ultimately nominated former Washington State Governor Gary Locke, a Chinese American, to the post, and he is currently waiting to be invited to testify before the US Senate as a prelude to his confirmation.

Somers announced at the luncheon that Nooyi had asked him to share the news that "we would welcome the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as our chief guest to address the USIBC on the occasion of the USIBC's 34th anniversary on June 15 in Washington DC."

"One-fifth of the world's population will be watching in anticipation," he said, and added, "After all, India matters!"

Somers also said high up on the USIBC's wish list was the hope that President Obama "will visit India during his first term -- so he can see and experience the world's largest, free-market democracy in action."

"We are confident President Obama will be moved -- as we all have been -- by the generosity of heart and spirit of the Indian people," he said, and predicted: "This first-hand experience will allow President Obama to place the Indo-US relationship in the proper context with due priority."

Former US Ambassador to India, Frank Wisner, considered the 'godfather' of the USIBC, who led the luncheon discussion, said, "The question before all of us, as we face the changing of the guard in Delhi as well as the one that is occurring in Washington, is how do we make this relationship strong in the future."

"How do we overcome the temptation to get on with the urgent and overlook the important."

Wisner asserted that the US-India relationship was extremely important for both India and the United States, and argued that "neither India not the United States can possibly achieve the principle objectives we have on the world stage today without the cooperation of the other."

He said for the US, from the successful completion of the Doha Round of Trade negotiations to planning for the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen with the attendant policy and legislative changes could not take place "without an understanding with India."

Wisner also said that a year from now would be the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, and this too, now that India had been free from three decades of isolation with the signing of the US-India civilian nuclear deal, could not have any legitimacy without the participation of India.

As far as India goes, the erstwhile envoy said, it would be "impossible," for New Delhi to "achieve stability in its relationship with Pakistan without a relationship with the United States."

Wisner said India would not find it difficult to sustain economic growth and attract the level of investment "without American tie-ups.'

"It's impossible to access global markets and impossible to overcome the threats of protectionism without a strong cooperative relationship with the United States," he said.

Wisner said, "When I think of this generation of India's ambition to put India on the main stage of world affairs and have India count, is it possible to find India's way into the OECD, into the G-8 and APEC and one day even into the (United Nations) Security Council without a relationship with the United States."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC