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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Modi promises 'unlimited' reforms to India economy

Afp, Gandhinagar

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised "truly unlimited" reforms Sunday in his bid to transform India's economy into a global powerhouse as he showcased his long-time fiefdom to global political and business leaders.
Speaking at a major investment summit in the western state of Gujarat attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and World Bank supremo Jim Yong Kim, Modi pledged to slash red tape and banish India's reputation as a hard place to do business.
Modi was Gujarat chief minister for 13 years before leading his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to national power last May, and much of his electoral appeal centred around his economic stewardship of the coastal state.
The presence of Kerry and Kim at the summit is seen as a vote of confidence in Modi's efforts to replicate his local success and kickstart growth in Asia's third-largest economy.
Kim predicted that Modi's government was on the verge of lifting millions of Indians out of poverty, while Kerry said the world's two largest democracies could make huge strides together.
Modi said his right-wing BJP government had already introduced a slew of initiatives since ending a decade of rule by the left-leaning Congress.
"In a very short span of seven months, we have been able to change the atmosphere of despair and uncertainty," he told the crowd of thousands of business leaders and foreign government ministers.
"Since day one, my government is actively working to revive the economy. My government is committed to create a policy environment that is predictable, transparent and fair."
But Modi said he was planning even greater, unspecified reforms to make it easier to do business in India and revive the flagging economy, which is struggling through the worst slowdown in decades.
"We are planning to take a quantum leap. It is not limited to one sector or region, it is truly unlimited," he said. "We want to do this is a cleaner and greener way."
Under the previous Congress government, investors frequently complained about a hostile business climate in India, frustrated by bureaucracy and corruption.
In contrast, Gujarat won a reputation as India's most investor-friendly state during the era of 'Modi-nomics' -- even if critics say he tilted the playing field in favour of big business through tax breaks and subsidies.
Kerry told the gathering the United States has looking forward to stronger trade and diplomatic ties between the world's two largest democracies, with American companies primed for more investment.
"I can't think of a moment in all my years in public life when our destinies are converging as significantly as they are today," said Kerry, who is due to visit a Ford auto plant in Gujarat during his trip.
"This is a relationship where we believe we can turn sustainable growth into opportunities we have not seen before," he told the crowd.
Kerry's visit to India, his second in six months, comes a fortnight before US President Barack Obama is due in New Delhi as Washington seeks to warm up sometimes frosty ties.
It is only a year since Washington ended a de facto boycott of Modi, who was blacklisted following deadly communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.
Modi received a rapturous reception from members of the diaspora on a visit to the US last autumn and a number of Indian-origin bosses, including MasterCard's Ajaypal Singh Banga, are attending the Gujarat summit.
At the opening session, World Bank president Kim hailed Modi as a "visionary leader" and forecast India's growth would hit 6.4 percent this year and even faster next.
"We project that India will a bright spot in an otherwise mediocre global economic outlook," Kim told the summit.
He said Modi's government must press on with reforms, including by slashing bureaucratic red-tape and simplifying taxation by introducing a national goods and services tax.
As well as simplifying labour rules, Modi has made manufacturing a priority of his leadership, echoing his time in Gujarat.

In his address, he promoted his 'Make in India' campaign launched in September to fire up a manufacturing sector that is lagging behind China.

The Daily Star, 12 January 2015