Pittsburgh business leaders mull Indian prime minister

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Two dozen local executives gathered Friday morning in the Downtown offices of Eckert Seamans LLC to discuss the future impact of India’s new prime minister on the Pittsburgh business community.

Hosted by the local chapter of the Network of Indian Professionals, participants included environmentalists, journalists, scholars, attorneys and representatives of American Eagle Outfitters, Westinghouse Electric Co. and PNC Financial Services — all eager to assess the opportunities for Pittsburgh companies in India.

“For the last decade, the U.S. has been investing in China, but that’s been done,” said Vince Suneja, CEO and co-founder of TwoFour Insight Group, a life sciences market research team in Peters Township. “Now that companies have to look at other emerging markets in the region, there isn’t a sector out there who is not looking at India.”

Previous attempts to penetrate the Indian consumer market have been made by local companies, some of whom were discouraged by inconsistent trade and tax regulations.

Potential investors in the Indian market have also been dissuaded by a rise in unemployment levels and a decelerating national economy. The country’‍s annual GDP growth declined from 7.9 percent in 2004 to 5 percent in 2014 during a decade under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“Prime Minister Modi was elected to essentially fix these things,” said Ashok Malik, a prominent policy analyst and columnist for the Times of India based in New Delhi who attended the event through a video connection. 

Narendra Modi was installed as India’s 15th prime minister May 26. His political faction — the populist Bharatiya Janta Party — currently holds an absolute majority in the national parliament and is pushing a financial plan meant to establish a stable tax regime attractive to both domestic and overseas investors.

The government also seeks to capitalize on trade in its solar power, wind energy, mining and information technology industries.

“There’s a huge market for IT manufacturing in India,” explained Mr. Malik, noting that the country imports more laptops than it generates. “Modi will be banking on the IT sector for job creation.”

As these industries become open to foreign direct investment, both U.S. and Pittsburgh companies could profit from the opportunity.

“India needs investment, and all of those forces exist in Pittsburgh,” said Mr. Suneja, citing Mylan Laboratories and Bayer Corp. as potential investors in the health care and agriculture industries. “It’s a question of matching supply and demand.”

Rocio Labrador: rlabrador@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.

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