U.S.-India trade could triple over the next year, if the two governments cooperate to increase investment, a former U.S. assistant secretary of Commerce said in Atlanta.
Indian investment in the U.S. is growing more quickly than ever, despite the fact that the countries do not have basic economic development agreements like a bilateral investment treaty, or BIT.
Raymond Vickery, who served in Commerce’s trade department during the Clinton administration, gave the keynote speech at the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce’s June 17 symposium on growing opportunities between the U.S. and India.
Now a senior vice president at Washington-based international business consulting firm Stonebridge International LLC, Mr. Vickery said that economic agreements with India hinge on new administrations in both countries making negotiating with one another a priority.
He added that Indian coalition governments often include socialist parties for which increasing trade is not a main concern.
Nonetheless, Mr. Vickery predicted a new U.S. administration could reach a treaty agreement with an Indian government in the next two years.
“I think that we will reach consensuses on both sides,” he said. “If that is the case, we can do a BIT shortly after the new administrations are in place on both sides, realistically, in the first part of 2010.”
The U.S. has signed investment treaties with 39 countries, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Web site, to ensure legal protection for U.S. companies and businesspeople operating in each of them.
Trade between the world’s two largest democracies is no longer simply a question of U.S. investment in India.
Indian investment in the U.S. continues to reach new highs and has nearly tripled since 2005. Mr. Vickery cited Mumbai, India-based automotive firms Tata Motors Ltd. and Mahindra & Mahindra, and SR Steel as companies acquiring U.S. firms or starting operations here in the last year.
“This is a whole new ball game,” he said during the event at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. “What it indicates to me is it’s a two-way street now.”
In recognition of the growing interaction, the Georgia Indo-American chamber gave two Atlanta companies awards for increasing business between the to countries. Ani Agnihotri, one of the conference organizers and managing partner of the U.S. India Business Research Center, announced the award winners.
Supply chain management software developer Manhattan Associates was recognized for promoting business to India. The company’s largest operation outside the U.S. is in Bangalore, India.
Gurgaon, India-based IT education software provider NIIT Technologies Ltd. got the award for promoting business with the U.S. Lalit Dhingra, president of the company’s U.S. operation, said that a third of its business is now with the U.S., and that amount could increase to half this year.
Despite the growth in U.S.-India trade, Mr. Vickery, who was introduced by conference organizer and Director of the Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education and Research Dr. John McIntyre, listed several problems for U.S. companies doing business there.
He called infrastructure problems the “Achilles’ heel” of the Indian economy, saying that the country has a 30 percent energy deficit, making power outages common, and agriculture is dependent on the annual monsoon bringing enough rain.
The country also imports about 70 percent of its petroleum, making rising global fuel costs an important issue.
Mr. Vickery also said that the country’s tax system is irregular and some officials expect bribes, though many U.S. companies can do business by making it clear they will not expedite their business with such payments.
However, he said that each of these problems presents an opportunity for the right company, and U.S. companies should take steps to “ride the next wave of Indian prosperity.”