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'Opening of India's retail sector will happen'

December 21, 2011 20:39 IST

Ron Somers, president of United States-India Business Council, has termed the Indian government's rollback of foreign direct investment in the multibrand retail sector as yet another addition to the disappointments American business and industry has had to endure.

Speaking at the American India Foundation's annual fundraising gala in Washington, DC, he said, "I just want to kind of start with (by) getting rid of the 800-pound gorilla in the room. On Thanksgiving, if you were paying attention, the big news coming out of India was the opening of the multibrand retail sector. And, there we were — all of us — feverishly on our BlackBerrys trying to conceive a press release in the middle of Thanksgiving in order to herald the most extraordinary economic policy in perhaps the last 10 years in India."

"Five days later, the decision was suspended. And, I just want to set the tone here by saying that if Bob Blake (Robert O Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs) and I can share with you — we've seen much worse than this."

Somers referred to the Indian Parliament's nuclear liability law, which has put the implementation of the US-India civilian nuclear deal in limbo, and incensed US business and industry that lobbied for the passage of the deal.

He said, "The nuclear rules coming out of India that don't quite limit liability in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident" was followed by the disappointment in April of  "not being selected for the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft procurement."

Somers also spoke about the sanctions on India after the 1998 nuclear tests and the US - India Business Council's and Blake's efforts to help "lift the sanctions in 2000-2001, with the visit of (then) President Bill Clinton (to India), who really opened the entire rapprochement and the relationship that we now here enjoy."

Dwelling on the brighter moments of US-India ties, he said in 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, "The first call that came into the White House was from (then Indian) prime minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee suggesting that India has been undergoing terrorist attacks for the last 45 years and we totally want to commit our solidarity with the American people. Just 10 years ago, the two-way trade in defense between the United States and India was $200 million (Rs 1,040 cr). Today, it's $10 billion (Rs 52,000 cr). Imagine, just in 10 years, imagine that draft and that trajectory of relations. Also, think about the removal of India from the Entities List."

He also pointed out President Barack Obama's endorsement of India's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The point, he said, was "that any great relationship, there is an ebb and a flow… Like a good marriage, we must be constantly tending this extraordinary relationship."

Somers assured the guests that all was not lost and that "the opening of the retail sector will happen'.
Aziz Haniffa Washington DC