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Indian PM's US Visit Aims at Improving Ties, Wooing Business

  • Anjana Pasricha

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the launch of a campaign aimed at opening millions of accounts for poor Indians in New Delhi, Aug. 28, 2014.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the launch of a campaign aimed at opening millions of accounts for poor Indians in New Delhi, Aug. 28, 2014.

Renenergizing frayed ties will be a top priority when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets President Barack Obama in the United States. The Indian leader will also try to rekindle American investors' interest in India in a major drive to revive the country’s economy, during his five day visit beginning September 26.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s packed agenda during a five-day visit in the United States includes meetings with President Barack Obama and other top officials, American corporate leaders, and prominent Indian Americans, as well as an address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The challenge in Washington will be to restore warmth to ties bogged down by stormy trade and diplomatic disputes in the past two years.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin hopes for substantive outcomes on trade and investment, energy, science and technology, defense relations and maritime security.

“We see Prime Minister’s Modi’s first trip to New York and Washington as a signal of our desire to build on the growing convergence in India-U.S. ties, both in areas where we can work together and in areas where we can do more for each other,” he said.

Business issues

Talks will include U.S. complaints on several business-related issues: intellectual property violations in India, New Delhi blocking a global trade deal and domestic legislation that has kept American companies out of India’s growing nuclear power sector.

But former Indian ambassador to Washington Lalit Mansingh is optimistic the visit will help the two countries turn a new page.

“The trust deficit had widened because American business had a lot of grievances against policies of the government. Decisions were not being taken," said Mansingh. "The reform process had been stalled and investment climate was unfriendly. A lot of that gap has been reduced, so they will start on a more favorable footing.”

Corporate America, like other foreign investors, is disillusioned with the tough environment of operating in India. U.S. investment in India tumbled from $2 billion in 2010 to $800 million last year.

In New York, Modi is to meet heads of companies like Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo and Boeing to try to convince them his government is transforming India into a business-friendly destination.

With an eye on his upcoming visit, the Indian leader Thursday launched a major campaign to turn India into a global manufacturing hub, promising to streamline procedures that have tripped up investors.

Modi called India an opportunity for foreign direct investors. He says the whole world knows India is a huge market.

But foreign businesses will look for concrete steps by Mr. Modi’s government to address impediments such as red tape, corruption and lack of infrastructure.

For Modi this leg of his mission is critical, his plans for the country’s economic recovery and creation of millions of jobs hinge on reviving investor interest in India.

Madison Square Garden event

For the Indian leader, a highlight of the visit will be an event at Madison Square Garden in New York, where Indian Americans are preparing a rousing welcome for a man once denied a visa by the United States for his alleged role in religious riots in Gujarat state which he governed before becoming prime minister.

Modi will only sip tea and lemonade during his entire U.S. visit, which coincides with a strict religious fast he observes every year.

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