US business leaders have sought to allay fears about job protectionism at a meeting with top Indian industrialists in Washington. The US and Indian corporate leaders also pledged to put up a united front in the face of the current economic crisis.
Referring to protectionist measures taken by the US, such as restrictions on H-1B visas, the bias against outsourcing in the US stimulus bill, and the threat of restrictions on medical care personnel, Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Mittal cryptically told the gathering that such measures would only ''strengthen the hands of those in India against whom the corporate leaders have been fighting a long and hard battle for the last 15 years''.
''We are partners in fixing the world problem and more importantly we are partners in progress," Mittal, who is leading a delegation of the Confederation of Indian Industries to the US, said in a panel discussion, 'India and the US: Partners in the Global Economic Recovery', organised by the US-India Business Council.
"Please support us in limiting the noise emanating in this area (protectionism). I hope no serious legislation with regard to H-1B visas or any other matters that would derail the process of moving forward the trade agenda between the US and the world," he said.
He sought more investment in infrastructure, high technology, education and health care. By doing this American business would not only be helping a social cause but themselves too, as India provided a huge untapped market, especially with its economy booming in the last decade, Mittal said.
Opening the discussion, former US Ambassador to India Frank Wisner said he would be in the forefront of those fighting demands for limiting job access and erecting trade barriers between the US and India. He said the Indo-US civil nuclear deal had opened the way for taking the relationship to a new level.
US India Business Council president Ron Somers said the private sectors in both countries have the responsibility to stay the course in a rough patch and keep India-US commercial relations at centre stage in aiding the recovery of the global economy.
In Washington to rebuild some shaky bridges, the CII delegation yesterday met President Obama's top economic advisor Lawrence Summers, director of the White House's national economic council, as well as the deputy national security advisor James B Steinberg.
They are also scheduled to meet World Bank president Robert B Zoellick, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, and Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner.
On Tuesday, they met former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Harold McGraw, chairman and chief executive of McGraw-Hill Companies - a leading global information services provider - and opinion leaders like former US ambassador to India Richard Celeste and Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs under President Bill Clinton.
After yesterday's meetings, Sunil Mittal told the media that top administration officials had assured him that America's growing ties with China would not be at the cost of India. "America is very clear that they have to keep their engagement with China very strong, but the message to us is do not worry," he said.
"China and India are seen as two engines of growth, and should continue to grow. The relationship with India on a bilateral basis would be strengthened as we go forward. Overall we are very happy with the meetings," Mittal added.
The CII delegation includes Hindustan Motors Ltd chairman C K Birla, CII mentor and Haldia Petrochemicals chairman Tarun Das and Hero Honda Motors chief executive officer and managing director Pawan Munjal, among others.
'Pakistan a hotbed'
Top US officials have expressed appreciation of the "responsible" response of the Indian government in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, and said Washington recongnises Pakistan as "hotbed of terrorism which needs to be controlled", according to Mittal.
"We outlined the problems we are facing in the Indian subcontinent outside India, in particular the Pakistan and Afghanistan situation, the continuous Sri Lanka stress, the Bangladesh mutiny, Myanmar issues and Maoist resurgence in Nepal," Mittal said. "I think they are willing to engage with India to build a partnership to ensure that the whole region becomes safer."