NEW DELHI: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee insisted on Monday that foreign direct investment in retail did not figure in her celebrated talks with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Briefing media after the hour-long meeting at the state secretariat, the chief minister said issues like sharing of Teesta river water between India and Bangladesh retail “did not come up for discussion”. Instead, the two leaders exchanged notes on how the state can be the hub for US-led investments into Myanmar.
The leaders — both of whom figure in Time’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people — meet just five months after Banerjee’s party publicly shot down the central government’s plan to allow FDI in multi-brand retail, which has been canvassed for extensively by US-based companies. Even US President Barack Obama in his India visit flagged it as one of the key economic changes the US would want Indiato adopt, besides raising the limit on foreign direct investment in insurance.
The US secretary of state was therefore on a charm offensive to lower the Trinamool Congress opposition to the measures, presenting the chief minister with a mat embossed with Tagore’s picture and a line from one of his celebrated poems.
In return for Mamata Banerjee’s support, the US government will offer to make West Bengal the launching pad for investments into Myanmar, a nation of 62 million people with vast natural resources. Till now, most of that investments, about $25 billion has come from India, China and Thailand.
Hillary Clinton said the Indian government’s Look East policy would go a long way in integrating the Asia-Pacific region and Kolkata could be a gateway to it. West Bengal, which has a debt overhang of close to R2.20 lakh crore thinks the US can help it to develop a strong business and investment climate in the state.
“Clinton has shown deep interest in our proposal of creating a deep sea port,” Banerjee said.
On retail, Clinton said the US desires that India open the market for multi-brand retail in a citizens’ meet earlier in the day. She said the US’ participation in the supply chain management could open a new range of possibilities in agricultural marketing. Referring to Frito-Lay and Pepsi’s operation in India, she said the “successful pattern” which these operations have adopted to integrate industry with agriculture could find a broader application, if multi brand retail was allowed in the country.
Asked about India reducing its oil imports from Iran, Clinton said: “We think India, as a country that understands the importance of trying to use diplomacy to try to resolve these difficult threats, is certainly working toward lowering their purchase of Iranian oil. We commend the steps they have taken thus far. We hope they will do even more… We think there is an adequate supply in the market place in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. We think this is part of India’s role in the international community.”
Later in the day, Clinton met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi.