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US holds out hope for Bengal

Calcutta, Feb. 25: Marquee US firms, including General Motors, General Electric and Boeing, called on Bengal finance and industries minister Amit Mitra today to explore the possibility of investments in energy, agriculture and aviation in the state.

The American companies were part of a delegation ed by Amcham, an association of US companies operating in India, which held its executive committee meeting in Calcutta after a gap of 10 years.

Eighteen members of the chamber, led by Lowell Paddock, chairman of Amcham India and president and managing director of General Motors India, met Mitra at Nabanna, the new secretariat, and spent more than an hour with the minister.

“It is like return of the colossus. In this world, nobody spends corporate time just like that. The fact that these companies had come and engaged in serious discussion with the state government indicates that Bengal has now emerged as an attractive destination for global giants,” Mitra later said.

According to the minister, the US companies discussed opportunities in sectors such as manufacturing, aviation, energy, especially solar energy, medical equipment and supply chain management in agriculture.

Representatives of General Electric and Dupont, both operating in the solar energy space, were present at the meeting with Mitra, along with those from Boeing, world’s top aircraft manufacturer, Caterpillar, maker of earth moving equipment, and GM, the auto behemoth.

A number of US companies are already present in Calcutta, including infotech stalwarts IBM and Cognizant and consulting and audit majors PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and KPMG. They are all in an expansion mode here.

During the meeting, the minister suggested that an MRO (maintenance, repair and operation) hub be set up in Calcutta to cater to the entire south east Asia.

Amcham members have urged the Bengal government to take up the issue with the Centre as several clearances would be required from the civil aviation industry for such a hub.

The Mamata Banerjee government here has reduced the state levy on aviation turbine fuel to 15 per cent at Calcutta airport and to zero at all other places, including an upcoming airport city project at Andal in Burdwan.

Sources said GE would like to tap the medical equipment business in the state, given the the state government’s eagerness to build super speciality hospitals and fair price diagnostic centres in every district.

During the meeting, the minister explained the industrial policy of the state and listed its achievements. He assured the US business leaders that procuring land for new projects would not be a problem as there were 3,000 acres available in 23 parks.

Later in the evening, Amcham held its board meeting, followed by a seminar on “Emerging East”.

Speaking on the occasion, Paddock said: “I am present in Calcutta today in my capacity as the chairman of Amcham India. It was an enormously helpful day where we met state government officials. The meeting with the minister went well. It was very encouraging to hear from him and the WBIDC managing director on the developments that are taking place in the state.”

Ajay Singha, executive director of Amcham, said the national executive board members of Amcham and various senior US company officials were present in Calcutta for the board meeting after a long time.

Singha said, “The Amcham delegation, comprising over 18 persons led by chairman Lowell Paddock explored sectors where American and Indian companies can work together. They are broadly energy, supply chain management, particularly relating to agriculture and public distribution system.”

“There was also discussion on civil aviation. As a chamber we are looking to initiate more dialogue between the companies on both sides. Today’s discussion was more of a dialogue. We must understand that investment does not happen overnight but through more and more dialogue,” he said after the seminar.

 
 
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