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SMEs: India, US launch joint initiative

By Suman Guha Mozumder
Last updated on: March 22, 2010 12:37 IST
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Anand Sharma at a press meetIndia and the United States have launched a joint initiative for cooperation between small and medium enterprises, commerce minister Anand Sharma said.

The initiative -- Integrating US and Indian Small Businesses into the Global Supply Chain -- is aimed at expanding trade and job-creating opportunities for US and Indian small and medium-sized companies, the minister said.

Noting that SMEs in India account for substantial part of domestic production and for 40 per cent of the manufacturing and exports, the minister said that SMEs, particularly the medium enterprises, are great incubators of technologies.

Therefore, an initiative like this would make bilateral trade and commerce more meaningful.

"We will ensure that the nodal groups that are responsible for the SMEs in both countries meet regularly to take it forward," Sharma told journalists during a press conference in New York at the end of his three-day visit to Washington.

During his visit, Sharma met United State Trade Representative Ron Kirk and also addressed a meeting of the US-India Business Council as well the Brookings Institution.

In October last year, over 50 chief executive officers of Indian SMEs met their US counterparts in New York at a two-day conference to explore opportunities for technology transfer and mutual investment.

The delegation, led by India-based Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, comprised companies that represented industries like food-processing and agriculture, healthcare and tourism as well as civil aviation ancillary industries and legal process outsourcing.

The first ever summit in the US also discussed opportunities in education in India.

The SMEs from India are looking forward to their US counterparts to explore if they can give technology and machineries, said S K Jain, president of the chamber.

"It's a two-way traffic -- we need the technology, brand and the franchisee and we have all the raw material and basic inputs," he said.

Last week, Sharma had said that India and the US discussed in Washington the areas of cooperation, namely innovation and technology.

"We would like India and the US to be true partners in developing new technologies that have applications across industrial sectors," he said.

Sharma was in Washington mainly to sign India-US Trade Policy Forum Framework for Cooperation on Trade and Investment with his counterpart to strengthen the overall trade and investment cooperation.

In New York, he also met Indian business leaders and entrepreneurs during a meeting organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Venu Srinivasan, CII president and Rajan Bharti Mittal, Ficci president and ambassador Meera Shanker were present at the meeting.

At his meeting with Kirk, Sharma raised India's concerns about visas for Indian professionals, restrictive trade measures and the need for reform of US export controls to promote high technology bilateral trade.

In response to a question, Sharma said the US corporate leaders are of the view that there is need for creating greater sensitivity and awareness about visas, particularly among 'well-meaning but inadequately informed people' who feel because of incorrect perception, jobs are being taken away by India.

"This was clear to my interlocutors that the issue should be addressed. India is not just an exporter of services but it is also a net importer. There is more or less a balance, but if there is a tilt, the tilt is in favour of the US," he said.

The Indian companies, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and International Business Forum, have created $106-billion income within the US in the past three years ending 2009, and created 300,000 jobs out of which 250,000 were taken up by the Americans.

"It's a myth that jobs are being taken away by the Indians," Sharma said.

"I have been urging the US CEOs that since they are aware of these facts they should sit with the members of Congress and give them the true picture, and when they are informed, they would withdraw amendments (read restrictions on travel by Indians)," he said.

During his meetings, the minister raised a very important issue -- the benefits of commencing negotiations on a 'totalisation agreement.'

Because of the absence of such an agreement, Indian companies in the US have been making double payments of social security, without getting any benefits.

In New Delhi's view, restrictions on movement of highly skilled people from India to whichever country they go, come as a barrier to trade and commerce.

"I, as their representative, would like to first uphold their dignity and right to travel as free citizens of the Republic of India to work in any country. At the same time, we respect the right of nationals from other countries to come and work in India.

"Therefore, there has to be level playing fields globally," Sharma said in response to a question.

Image: Anand Sharma addresses a press conference at Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, in New York on March 19. From left, Consul General Prabhu Dayal, Anand Sharma and Ambassador Meera Shankar. | Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

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