By: Shubham Ghosh
India needs to remove impediments to the ease of doing business, the head of a top Indian-American business advocacy group has said, asserting that the country has made some progress but has a long way to go to match Singapore or Hong Kong.
Mukesh Aghi, the president of the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF), said the India-US relationship is strong and is growing positively in every aspect.
“When you look at geopolitically, the Quad seems to move forward. You look at I2U2 moving forward,” he told PTI. Noting that a booming Indian economy is helping the US, he said the Boeing order by Air India created over a million high-paying jobs in America.
“We’re expecting Indigo also to place an order. India is pulling the economic engine of growth for the United States,” Aghi said.
In one of the largest aircraft orders by an airline, Tata Group-owned Air India last month announced it will buy 470 narrow-body and wide-body planes from Airbus and Boeing, with the total deal value estimated to be worth $80 billion (over Rs 6.40 lakh crore). Air India will buy 250 aircraft, including 40 wide-body A350 planes, from European aviation major Airbus, and 220 planes from US aircraft maker Boeing under separate deals.
“Well, it’s tremendous (momentum). When you look at the FDI, it’s going up. When you look at what’s happening on the manufacturing side, as people are trying to de-risk their position in China they are looking at China plus one strategy, India becomes a good alternative,” said Aghi.
Apple is a classic example, he said, asserting that the company is committed to now making 20 million iPhone 14 in India.
“Then we are looking at other companies which are doing the same thing. So, I think the momentum is there. What we need to do is make sure that we keep removing the impediments and the ease of doing business becomes world-class as we are going to compete for the manufacturing to come from China into India,” Aghi said.
“I think state ministers have to, in partnership with the central government, look at what are the challenges, for example, labour law, that is still an impediment. Land acquisition, it has challenges. When you’re trying to build a greenfield project, you have to get multiple permits. Make those easier, smoother,” he said.
On logistics, when you are part of the global supply chain, you are trying to move complex equipment between the customs, make it speedier and make sure that your capital is not stuck in the customs or in airports itself, he said. “We have made a lot of progress, but we still have a long way to go if you’re gonna benchmark ourselves with Singapore or Hong Kong or other geographies itself,” Aghi said.
The trade between the two countries has gone up and is over $70 billion without any trade deal, he said, adding that there is momentum, which is “very positive”.
“Then you may look here on the immigration side. We are seeing things moving forward, especially on the green card wait time. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi has introduced legislation, so your wait time, which is over 10 years now, will get much, much shorter. “So in every aspect what we are seeing is the relationship is positive, is strong, and the momentum is moving in the right direction,” he said.
Aghi also said that with such a large number of Indian techies on H-1B visas losing their jobs, it would have an impact on the India-US relationship.
“It is impacting the relationship because you have citizens of India who are contributing to the local economy. It’s normal that in any economic cycle, people will lose their job. We have to give them runway to be able to embark on another position,” he said. USISPF has written to the immigration authorities to basically give them six months instead of 60 days to stay in the country after they lose their jobs, he said.
“You have to understand, while the US unemployment is around 3.8 per cent, in Silicon Valley, unemployment is around two per cent. So, there is a big demand for these techies. And if you give them enough time, they will become tax-paying citizens of this society,” he said.
“You have to understand when they’re unemployed, most of them do not go on a doll of the government. They survive on their savings. So, I think the impact is not there from a payment perspective. “It’s important to understand that they will find their highly qualified people. They will find jobs. We just need to give them time, and that’s what we are working on,” Aghi said.
The Joe Biden administration moved fast enough and basically guaranteed that all deposits are protected at the now-collapsed Silicon Valley Bank. “I think that builds confidence,” he said. They were providing some loans to Indian startups. So it did over the weekend have an impact on the confidence. But now, once this policy was agreed by the Biden administration, things are back to normal, he said.