In an interview with CNBC-TV18's Shereen Bhan, US commerce secretary John Bryson talks about the Indo-US relationship and what the road ahead looks like for this partnership.
Below is an edited transcript. for more.
Q: On a comment that you made here in India, you said - I encourage India to build on its efforts to support more accountability, transparency and integrity in its commercial actions. What that suggests is that you are disappointed with the standards of accountability, transparency and integrity in India today?
A: I am a great believer in our relationship with India. We are bringing 16 outstanding US businesses here to work on Indian infrastructure. That is my priority and that is my focus. In the full conversation that I had, I set out some things that I thought would enhance that potential.
Q: Are you disappointed?
A: I am not disappointed, but am thrilled to be here and I believe this is a great opportunity. Our relationship with India is such in important relationship and the opportunities for example, to apply the skills and competitive strengths of some of our businesses in infrastructure flows out of the fact that this is a developing and excellent relationship.
Q: Another comment you made, you said you are concerned about measures that interfere with US sourcing decisions and this makes it harder to invest in India. Do you believe it’s gotten more difficult to do business in India? What specific apprehensions do you have? Where are you seeing this interference?
A: We have more opportunities to make investments and have opportunities in India than was true in the past. There is a partnership and you are asking about a partnership, about mutual benefits. In a good partnership and relationship there are always some differences and the nice thing about those is with mutual respect those can readily be worked out and I believe that overtime they will be worked out.
Q: But when you say there have been areas of interference, can you be more specific?
A: In truth, I do not exactly know what you are referring to but what I am saying to you is that I believe we have a very good and valuable relationship.
Q: What is the feedback you have got with regards to investing in infrastructure? What are the apprehensions that have been expressed on the infrastructure investment side from US companies?
A: The four priorities here are - road, rail, aviation and then energy which bring them all together. You referred to General Electric (GE) that is one of the companies that is represented here. GE is around the world and they have a considerable base and focus here. GE wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe in the opportunity.
Q: Have they expressed apprehensions with regards to investing in the Indian infrastructure space? Is this going to be an area that you are going to bring up with your counterpart here because this has been mired in controversy and we have seen slow decision making within the larger infrastructure space in India?
A: General Electric’s presence here, its deep engagement here speaks for itself. GE believes there is opportunity to invest in the infrastructure and enhance their opportunities, their strong business here in India.
Q: We have now have regulations in place for infrastructure debt funds in this country. Has there been talk of an Indo-US infrastructure debt fund? Is this going to be something that you are going explore? How high is it as a scenario priority for the US?
A: I understand that there is conversation here about setting up a fund of some sort. That is very much up to the Indian government. It doesn’t seem to me like a bad idea at all. I think it’s probably a good idea but nothing we have done is based on that fact.
Q: The last statement that we had from the US State Department said that it was working hard with India to see if we can help with regards to reducing the country’s dependence on Iranian crude. The Indian oil minister over the weekend said it did not envisage any cut in the purchase of crude oil from Iran. Will America put India in the exempted countries list just as you have done with Japan and other European countries? India and China currently up for a review?
A: The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has set out very nicely, something that we all believe in and that is we have an important relationship with India and we work together and share in common this most fundamental point and that is we both have the view that it would be bad globally for Iran to end up with a nuclear weapon. That is the foundation point for all the conversations here.
Q: Does that mean that the US will look at including India and China in the exempt countries list or does that mean that the US continues to weigh in on India to reduce its imports from Iran and if that doesn’t happen will you look at importing sanctions?
A: I don’t know the exempt companies list so I am underscoring what I hear, what I know directly and that is we the US with India share this very fundamental point that it would be bad, it would be a great risk for the world for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
Q: India continues to engage with Iran not just over oil but on other economic matters as well. Is that going to be a big deterrent as far as the strategic relationship between India and the US is concerned? Is it likely to sour the relationship that India and the US enjoy?
A: What we believe and what I believe is that we have a growing and strong relationship with India and are working together with respect to Iran and the nuclear weapon question which is the fundamental question is very important.
Q: There are concerns being raised by the Indian IT sector and this has to do with the rejection rate in the L1 visas which has almost doubled in comparison to 2010. For some specific companies it has gone as high as 40 to 50%. What is really going on with the L1 visas? Are we likely to see any relaxation on that front because this is a huge area of opportunity for the Indian IT sector and a huge area of concern at this point in time?
A: India is the recipient of much the largest number of business related visas of any country in the world. The state department continues to build further and move faster, they have concentrated their allocation of visas here in India into a single location that is sped up considerably, passing those visas out.
Then there was the recent announcement in the last two-three days that another step will be taken that those who already have these business related visas post for the temporary workers and longer term workers, for those who already have the visas, there will be no personal interview at the embassy will be required. So that is really a big step in extending visas.
Q: Has it been expressed as an apprehension from the Indian side because this is clearly an area of great concern? The figures therefore wanted to see the rejection rate has almost doubled in 2011 in comparison to 2010?
A: We work very well with the Indian side but you could address that question with the Indian ministers.
READ MORE ON Shereen Bhan, John Bryson, US businesses, General Electric, Indo-US infrastructure debt fund, US State Department, Hillary Clinton, L1 visas, H1B, US economy
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