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Together, we can reach for the stars, Pranab tells US

Last updated on: June 23, 2010 13:54 IST

Together, we can reach for the stars, Pranab tells US

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

"We have been looking forward to this gathering and are very excited to continue the momentum from our first Strategic Dialogue session earlier this month, which also took place in the same room as well," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

Clinton said this while welcoming the Indian delegation led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Indian and American CEOs to the US-India CEO Forum, being hosted by the Department of State at the Benjamin Franklin Room.

"I'd like to thank Finance Minister (Pranab) Mukherjee, Commerce Minister (Anand) Sharma, (Planning Commission) Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia for coming to Washington again. The deputy chairman was here two weeks ago for the dialogue. It's great to see him back so soon.

"We have a number of our American counterparts who are going to be joining us very soon: Ambassador Ron Kirk from the US Trade Representatives Office; Mike Froman and Larry Summers from the White House; Secretary Gary Locke from the Commerce Department, and Secretary Tim Geithner, who will also be joining us.

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Image: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee sigs the visitors book at the US State department, as Ambassador Meera Shankar looks on.
Photographs: Jay Mandal on assignment
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"I want to thank the CEOs who have participated in this forum and have done all of the work. All we're doing is giving you lunch.

"But really, Dave Cote of Honeywell and Ratan Tata of the Tata Group have served as co-chairs for this forum and they have spearheaded the development of an ambitious, challenging set of recommendations that we look forward to implementing together. And I thank each and every one of you for your hard work and your dedication to the US-India relationship."

"As both President (Barack) Obama and Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh have said numerous times in the last 16 months, the increased cooperation between the United States and India is the cornerstone of our 21st century strategic partnership", Clinton recalled.

"The President and the Prime Minister reinvigorated this forum last year based on the idea that Washington and Delhi need to catch up to the business and innovation cooperation that is already happening in New York and Mumbai.

"In the latest example of the growing links between our countries and our economies, last week Congressman Jim McDermott Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans) unveiled a report by the India-US World Affairs Institute showing that Indian investment in the US grew by an estimated 60 per cent in 2009, to over $7 billion.

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Image: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Photographs: Jay Mandal on assignment
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"That same report indicated that trade in goods between our countries tripled between 2004 and 2008, and that since 2004 Indian acquisitions in the United States have supported approximately 40,000 jobs here in our country, with manufacturing exports to India linked to another 96 ,000 jobs.

"That's a great progress and it's a solid base on which to build.

"We are just getting started in exploring all of the ways to improve opportunities for trade and investment and foster the kind of inclusive growth that lifts people out of poverty and strengthens our democracies.

"We want to turn recommendations for improving access to education into reality. We want to lay the groundwork for future cooperation to fight climate change, develop clean energy solutions, and so much more.

"It is exciting to welcome our Indian colleagues back to Washington and I am excited, too, that President Obama will be going to India in early November. We need to work very hard to translate a lot of the great ideas that have been discussed into accomplishments and realities for that visit," Clinton reiterated.

US officials participating in the luncheon that kicked off the CEOs' meet, were Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers Larry Summers, Deputy National Security Adviser for Economic Affairs, Michael Froman, Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg, and Under Secretary of State, Bob Hormats.

The event was closed to the press.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was also expected to be at the luncheon to co-preside the meeting with Mukherjee, but after the opening remarks, the media were shooed off.

Geithner hadn't arrived at that time.

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Image: From L-R: Mukesh Ambani, Meera Shankar and United States Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk.
Photographs: Mohammed Jaffer/SnapsIndia
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"Before turning over the podium to Mukherjee, Clinton said, "We were joking as we walked out that he has long been a guiding force in Indian politics and has served in various important positions, and as finance minister has been instrumental in India's rapid economic growth."

"Many of you are old friends with whom we have been working with significant success over the years," Mukherjee said.

"I value your engagement and support."

He said he was 'particularly happy' to see how India-US CEO Forum has established itself as a bridge between the private sectors and governments of India and the USA.

"With your leadership and vision, you have created synergies that are invaluable. The initiative to take this strong economic partnership to a new level of innovation and sustained growth is indeed welcome.

Mukherjee lavished praise on their efforts and said, "Our very presence today, specifically for this morning's meeting, indicates our commitment and support.

"When I was growing up in India, we used the word 'captain' to refer to someone who was in charge of navigating a ship through stormy seas. When I first heard the term 'captains of industry', it seemed a puzzle to me.

"But having been the finance minister of India, now I realise that the global economy can be as stormy as any sea. "In fact, very often it feels like a tsunami. Anybody who tries to navigate his or her corporation through the global economy is, therefore, rightly called a captain.

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Image: From L-R: Pranab Mukherjee, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Hillary Clinton.
Photographs: Jay Mandal on assignment
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"For this reason, I greatly appreciate the work that you have been doing. I hope you will also appreciate a little the work that we in the Indian government have been doing in these turbulent times.

"You, being the captains of industry, know and I as captain of a national economy know, the world is going through a very difficult phase. The world has recently begun to come out of the great recession."

"What started as a subprime crisis in 2007-8 become a financial crisis that affected banks and private corporations. And then, it spread through the real economy.

"Governments around the world rallied to protect the banks and corporations. Unfortunately, now some of the governments themselves seem to have got infected. I am referring to the difficult sovereign debt situation that our friends in Europe are facing today."

"Economists used to tell us last year that the global economy will make a V-shaped recovery; that is, it will turn around very quickly.

"Then I was told that it will be a U-shaped recovery, meaning that it will stay at the bottom a little longer before recovery.

"Recently, with the risk of new crises, experts are saying that it may be a W-shaped recovery."

To much laughter, Mukherjee said, "Frankly, I am beginning to feel that for every alphabet in the English dictionary, there is a theory of economic recovery.

"What so many competing theories of recovery mean is that we really do not know the answer. There is uncertainty concerning which way the global economy will go."

Mukherjee asserted that corporations, governments have to be careful and diligent.

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Image: (L-R) Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahliwalia, Mukherjee, Clinton and Sharma.

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Where India is concerned, Mukherjee said, "Fortunately, the recovery seems to be on a surer footing. I use the word 'fortunately' deliberately.

"Only a foolish person will try to take credit for everything. The Indian economy has done exceedingly well in these difficult times through a combination of careful policy making, dynamic industrial leadership, and a bit of luck.

"Last quarter, our gross domestic product grew at 8.6 per cent. And this year, my ministry has predicted a growth rate of 8.5 per cent. I notice that International Monetary Fund has recently challenged our prediction.

"For once, however, I am not going to contest the IMF assessment. The IMF believes that Indian economy will grow at 8.8 per cent.

He explained that there were several reasons for him to be optimistic about India's long-term growth prospect.

"For the first time, it appears entirely within the realm of possibility that India will break into double-digit growth within the next five years. Standard economic theory teaches us that the high savings and investment rates are essential for a nation to grow fast.

"We, in India, used to watch with envy how East Asian economies saved and invested over 30 per cent of their GDP. What many do not know is that from 2003, India has broken into the high-growth circle.

"We now save and invest around 34 per cent of our GDP, and the data we have received over the last couple of months suggests that this is still rising."

Mukherjee, however, acknowledged that 'our growth is coming not just from government action, but from a variety of sectors and stakeholders from all of the economy, including our dynamic private corporate sector.'

"A significant part of India's growth impulse is from our rural sector, which has been prioritised in our development plans for inclusive growth, focuses on innovation with a broader outreach at the grassroots level, and engaging medium-sized companies in the United States and India in the development process', he added.

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Image: Sunil Kant Munjal, chairman, Hero Corporate Service and Pranab Mukherjee.
Photographs: Jay Mandal on assignment
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Pointing to the massive infrastructure opportunities India offers, Mukherjee said at this very moment, investment opportunities were in excess of $850 billion over the next five years.

"Our ultimate aim is to make India a vibrant economy that attracts global capital and trade", Mukherjee said and exhorted the assembled CEOs that in fulfilling this objective, all of you have to play a role.

He also iterated that 'a relationship with the US is one of the most important bilateral relationships for India today', and that as India pursues its development goals, 'we would like to work with US, especially where our priorities converge, to realise outcomes that are to the mutual benefit of our people.'

"We have a unique advantage, which is the existence of strongest possible people-to-people linkage that any bilateral strategic partnership could wish for.

"We have, in our Strategic Dialogue, thought of innovation as the principle that should guide our work", he added and predicted, "I am sure the dynamism and energy of our private sectors and the public-private partnership that we envision will help to take our cooperation and achievement to unprecedented heights."

"The trust that we have built through our 100 per cent compliance record in safeguarding of important technology should help us to increase our bilateral high-technology trade".

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Image: US Secretary of Treasury, Tim Geithner shakes hand with Pranab Mukherjee.
Photographs: Jay Mandal on assignment
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Noting that the lifting of export restrictions on India, particularly on entities like ISRO and DRDO are currently under discussion, Mukherjee underlined that 'India has a record of being a trusted customer.'

He expressed confidence that 'our governments should be able to work together to clear the conditions for a win-win situation in advanced technology trade between our two countries.'

"I am aware that as captains of industry, you will have a major focus on profits. I am sure you are equally aware that as a politician, I have to keep a watch on votes," the Indian finance minister said.

"But, at the same time, all of us must have ambitions that go beyond these. Our ultimate aim has to be well-being of the human beings.

"We have to strive for inclusiveness not only in our individual nations and corporations, but in the world across the nations," he said, adding, "We live today in a world where all our paths are tied together.

"For that reason, if not for other, we have to strive together to create a better world. Waxing philosophical, Mukherjee said, "Our ambitions must go beyond the economy. India's founding fathers set a vision very similar to what the founding fathers of the United States had.

"India is today a secular, democratic nation. And as a political leader of India, I am proud of that. To hold on these ideals and to run a growing, robust economy means having to face lots of challenges.

"We must collectively rise to those challenges. I know that this sounds as if I am trying to reach for the stars. I want to assure you that that is exactly what I am doing. Together, we must try to reach for the stars."


Image: Hillary Clinton and Deepak Parekh, chairman, HDFC.
Photographs: Jay Mandal on assignment
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