Biden Urges Closer Cooperation With India's Business Elite

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MUMBAI, India -- Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. urged India's financial elite to seize the chance to bolster ties with the United States, to benefit both nations on areas like the economy and environment.

"I would ask you to consider the historic opportunity that we have here," Mr. Biden said on Wednesday speaking to a packed room at the Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai, India's financial capital. "Imagine what our two countries can achieve together, not only for one another but for the economic and political stability of the region."

In a speech peppered with colorful phrases, Mr. Biden identified four targets: improving economic exchange, addressing climate change, collaborating in defense matters and addressing India's role in the Asia-Pacific region.

He spoke at a time when the United States is shifting its focus in the region toward India, in part to counterbalance China's rise but also because of Washington's increasingly problematic relationship with Pakistan, India's principal foe.

In the course of Mr. Biden's two-day visit to Mumbai he is expected to meet with leading Indian industrialists and business people, and to attend an event at the Indian Institute of Technology, before flying to Singapore on Thursday.

During his speech at the Bombay Stock Exchange, Mr. Biden focused on the need for greater ease in doing business with India and called for further economic reforms, highlighting the frustrations many American businesses have had as they have sought to tap into India's potentially huge consumer market.

"India is no longer an economic island and will continue to rise as an economic power," Mr. Biden said as he extolled the economic growth of the country since its economy was opened up in 1991. "However, significant challenges and problems persist. It is time we take this relationship to a new level to achieve our shared vision."

Mr. Biden said that among the obstacles to a friendly business environment in India are the lack of protection for intellectual property, inconsistent tax rules, high barriers to market entry, and protectionist policies. He called for a trade and investment partnership that would be open and fair to both countries and pushed for an improved bilateral trade agreement.

Addressing the American immigration bill that would limit the number of foreign workers allowed into the United States, Mr. Biden said that the number of visas the United States has granted has recently increased. He added that bilateral trade between India and the United States had grown fivefold over the last 13 years, reaching nearly $100 billion this year, and could increase even further if both countries make the right choices.

India has introduced many economic reforms since September 2012, reducing the restrictions for certain types of foreign investment, but American officials believe the changes have not gone far enough.

While India's market of 1.2 billion people has attracted several global companies, the country has proved to be a challenging business environment, thanks to deep-seated corruption, bureaucratic red tape and convoluted and ever-changing government regulations.

Recently, an amendment to the law that allows the Indian government to tax past overseas transactions involving Indian assets led to a battle with British telecom company Vodafone Group and created considerable apprehension among foreign investors. In April, India's top court alarmed overseas drug companies by allowing Indian pharmaceutical companies to make generic versions of the Gleevec, a chemotherapy drug from Novartis, which raised questions about the protection of intellectual property in India.

Building on Secretary of State John Kerry's recent visit to India, Mr. Biden also urged India to address the challenges posed by climate change and begin working toward cleaner energy options.

"Unless development is sustainable, the consequences of climate change will seriously undermine the economic progress made by India and risk the very health of the people of the country," he said, suggesting that the two countries work to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons and encourage scientists from both countries to work on green technology options.

He also pushed for an increased security partnership, adding that such ties would be good for business and regional stability.

"There is no contradiction between strategic autonomy and a strategic partnership," he said. "Global powers are capable of both."

He added that the United States would like to see India achieve its cherished goal of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as well as take a bigger role in regional leadership.

Mr. Biden received warm applause when he congratulated India's cricket team for beating England in January.

Mr. Biden's visit to India, his first official trip to the country since assuming office in 2009, is the first by an American vice president in almost three decades. He arrived in New Delhi on Monday and spent a day meeting with India's top political leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari and Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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