The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Time for a Tiger, cry Bengal brand sellers

Milan, Sept. 28: Resurgent Bengal took an aggressive stand in the Italian business capital, with the industry and commerce minister pushing the state as an investment destination ripe for the picking.

If Nirupam Sen's bullish hardsell speech at the Italian chamber of commerce in downtown Milan wasn't enough, the distribution of Time for a Tiger, a slickly-produced pamphlet branding Bengal as the destination of choice for shrewd corporates should have driven home the point.

The strong statement was in keeping with the mood of the Asia-friendly panel which met for a day-long series of talks on whether India, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, in Milan for the Le Vie Dell'Oriente (or the Asia Week), are partners or competitors for Italian businesses.

Starting with Calcutta's location ' strategically in the centre of the region, allowing easy access to the rest of South and Southeast Asia ' Sen drove home the old point of low prices and high quality being the main draws. But the biggest benefit was the 'wealth of the human mind', he stressed.

Sen outlined the performance of the growing industries of the state ' iron and steel, chemicals and petrochemicals, manufacturing and services. Initiatives like Manikanchan (jewellery park) are ideal platforms for Italian alliances, the minister said.

'A wise man sees an opportunity in a threat. Can we not work together for the greater prosperity of our times' This is the time for investment in West Bengal,' he concluded.

If the colour of the bright red booklet about 'the happy hunting ground of the east' may have given the audience ' potential Italian investors, diplomats and officials ' the wrong impression about the state's changing spots, its content was hardly ambiguous.

The minister's point was reinforced in the larger Indian context by industry minister of the Lombardy region, Massimo Zanello, Italian ambassador to India Anotonio Armellini and Indian ambassador to Italy Himachal Som.

In fact, the Rome-based Som declared that anyone investing in his home state would be guaranteed 'full co-operation', more so because Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is, apparently, an old college friend.

Having come aboard the festival as a partner state, Bengal's commitment to promoting bilateral ties was clear. On arrival, Nirupam Sen and principal secretary Sabyasachi Sen paid a visit to the jewellery manufacturing association in Valenza and the food processing units in Alessandria.

On Sunday, the team left for Florence, where it remained till Monday evening, meeting representatives of the three main tannery clusters in the region. 'They seemed to have a lot of information about the Calcutta Leather Complex, even if they haven't visited it officially,' said Sabyasachi Sen.

The long-term objective of Team Bengal is to get the fashion industry to start manufacturing in Calcutta. 'Currently, they are importing bags and wallets from Bengal. The biggest segments for garments and shoes are untouched,' said the principal secretary.

Next stop Rome, where the government-to-government talks table has been laid out.

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