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Singh scripts FDI story

New York, Sept. 22: The UPA government is to set up an investment commission to canvass foreign direct investment (FDI) into India.

Speaking at a lunch with 17 captains of American business at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he would soon appoint a special envoy to promote FDI.

He singled out Bengal for praise and pre-empted questions from American CEOs about the Left parties coming in the way of India's economic reforms.

Singh cautioned against judging political parties by what they say and told the CEOs that parties should be assessed by what they do when they come to power.

In this context, he cited the example of Bengal where chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was working to create an environment conducive to investment.

Singh said he would like to see 'an India story which must be a part of every company's story' and drew a picture full of promises and opportunities for American skills and capital in India's growth.

Massive investment is required in infrastructure, Singh said, and conservatively estimated the scope for investment in this sector at as much as $150 billion in the next 10 years. This would require the trebling of FDI into India, which now stands at $5 billion a year.

He said that with such a huge need for infrastructure investment for the country's modernisation, there was no alternative to FDI simply because domestic resources are inadequate for this purpose.

Committing his personal interest in investment promotion and staking his reputation as the architect of India's economic reforms, the Prime Minister pointed out that he was heading a committee on infrastructure so that policy bottlenecks are eliminated.

He defended the UPA's Common Minimum Programme and quoted from it to convince the CEOs that it was 'very investment-friendly'.

Singh pointed out that the process of economic liberalisation had survived four successive governments in India.

For the 17 CEOs who attended the lunch, the presence of an Indian Prime Minister at NYSE for the very first time was a statement of Singh's desire to continue the pursuit of economic reforms.

These CEOs collectively account for a trillion dollars in assets. Catherine Kinney, NYSE president, and John Thain, its CEO, also attended the lunch. After his speech, the Prime Minister walked about on the trading floor of NYSE to repeated applause from traders.

Singh said he was on Wall Street because 'it is the premier capital market of the world and a major source of global financial flows'.

Departing from the official policy so far of underplaying the outsourcing of jobs from the US and other developed countries, Singh acknowledged that India offered an 'immense opportunity' in this area.

Touching upon this issue, which is a hot potato in the current US presidential election campaign, the Prime Minister made it plain that advancement in technology was leading to the fragmentation of service delivery processes in such a way that portions of financial transactions, insurance claims and engineering designs could now be done at other locations.

He told the CEOs that India offered low cost research and development opportunities in pharmaceutical and biotech sectors.

Replying to a question from one of the CEOs about China's economic potential, Singh said the world was large enough have room for a booming India and China.

Singh later laid a wreath at Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed on September 11.

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