The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha turns US best bet
- Chamber seeks help on FDI

Calcutta, Oct. 12: A surprise proposal to act as the bridge between American business and the government in Delhi was tabled before Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today.

Rolling out a wish list at a meeting at Writers' Buildings, representatives from the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) sought the support of the Left government in Bengal to expedite foreign direct investment (FDI) changes in telecom, civil aviation and insurance.

'We are hopeful that your party will provide support to the UPA government for early passage of these reforms,' Sunil Mehta, chairman, Amcham, told the chief minister.

He focused on the benefits of FDI and the need to lay down a 'predictable policy framework' for growth and development in the country.

Mehta ' accompanied by a team of Indian CEOs of US companies like Bank of America, Oracle, Citibank, EMC Data, Ford India and Interra Information Technology ' was engaged in a 30-minute meeting that covered issues ranging from the Left's stand on FDI to Bengal's potential to attract investment.

After the smiles and handshakes came the critical question. Referring to the Left's stand on FDI, the group wondered whether there existed a disconnect between the Left lines in Calcutta and Delhi.

The question reflected a perception that the responsibilities of governance have made Bhattacharjee more receptive than his party colleagues in Delhi to economic realities.

'The chief minister said his government wanted FDI in all businesses in Bengal and the answer was reassuring. This government in Bengal would certainly like to have FDI,' Mehta said later, applauding the chief minister's 'candour and commitment'.

The sentiment was echoed by commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen, who also met the chamber representatives. 'We are not against FDI. Our party's central committee has said that FDI has to be limited in certain sectors, though in Bengal there is no restriction on FDI in any sector,' Sen said.

A few hours later, the venue of the FDI pitch shifted to Delhi with Union finance minister P. Chidambaram making a case before the Left for raising the investment limits in telecom.

The American chamber also outlined its plan for a 'resurgent' Bengal. 'We will open an office in Calcutta in 2005,' the Amcham chairman said. This will be the sixth office of Amcham in India after Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

He added that Bhattacharjee sought American investment in infrastructure, agro and food processing and manufacturing after making a presentation about the opportunities in the state.

'We have promised to do whatever we can for the state,' said Mehta, who later met state information technology minister Manab Mukherjee.

Mehta said the state has come a long way and it's time the rest of the world knew about the changes. 'Seeing is believing. So, we stressed that more people should be invited to Bengal to see for themselves the changes in the state.'

The Amcham team's visit came a day before Kenneth Juster, US undersecretary for commerce, reaches Calcutta.

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