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Modi assures reforms, global CEOs want pace hastened

New York, Sep 25 In a 90-minute dinner meeting with 42 of the world’s top corporate leaders here on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched for stronger inflow of foreign investments into India, outlining continuity in reforms, prompt decisions and transparency as areas of priority.

The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in a group photograph with the leading Fortune 500 CEOs, at a special event, in New York on September 24, 2015.
The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in a group photograph with the leading Fortune 500 CEOs, at a special event, in New York
The chief executives were impressed. But they wanted the prime minister to quicken the pace of reforms.

“Foreign direct investment all over the world has fallen. But in India, it increased by 40 percent. This reflects confidence in the Indian economy,” the prime minister said during the interaction on Thursday evening with the chief executives, drawn from Fortune 500 companies.

“Reform in governance is my Number One priority. We are for simplified procedures, speedy decision-making, transparency and accountability,” the prime minister, before dining with them at the Waldorf Towers Hotel in Manhattan where he is staying.

Indian officials said the net worth of all the companies represented at the meet was over $4.5 trillion. They included Ford, Lockheed Martin, DuPont, IBM, GE, Boeing, Pepsi, CitiBank, Starwood, MasterCard, Marriot, Caterpillar, Merck, Qualcomm, Saandisc and Cisco.

Earlier, the prime minister participated in two roundtables — one on financial sector and the other on “Media, Technology and Communications – Growth Story for India”. At both meetings, the chief executives said they saw India as among the top five markets to do business with.

Modi also met individually with the US-India Business Council chair Ajay Banga, industrialist and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Lockheed Martin chief Marillyn A. Hewson and Aecom chief executive Mike Burke.

Among them, Bloomberg said his business empire in India was employing around 2,500 people currently, of which 98 percent were Indians, He said the intention was to double the numbers soon. Modi thanked the former mayor for his insights, as he is also India’s knowledge partner for “Smart Cities” project.

Later, the prime minister himself gave an update on his meetings during the packed day.

“Met top American CEOs from media and entertainment sector. They were enthusiastic about the change ‘Digital India’ initiative is driving,” Modi tweeted, adding: “Digital technology has a vital role in making democracy stronger and in overall human resource development.”

More specifically, the prime minister also spoke of his government’s vision to connect the 600,000-odd villages in India with broadband and emphasized that digital technology will increasingly play a major role in further strengthening democracy and India’s development narrative.

“My interaction with the Fortune 500 CEOs was on investment opportunities in India and why they must come and ‘Make in India’,” said the prime minister.

Amitabh Kant, secretary in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, who was present during most of the meetings, said later that the general drift of the interaction with top CEOs was vibrant, constructive and positive — all this “over exotic Indian cuisine”.

Briefing the media, India’s foreign office spokesperson Vikas Swarup said the prime minister made it a point to interact with each of the 42 chef executives at the dinner meet and was particularly keen to understand which were their areas of concern which his government could address and resole.

“By and large the mood was upbeat. There was a general consensus that the prime minister was effecting change in India. The only thing which these chief executives said was: Please make these changes faster,” Swarup said.

The prime minister said he believed in deregulation and in giving private sector the space to develop, with predictable, transparent and accountable government.

Arun Singh, India’s Ambassador tom the US, said: “It came through clearly that — and most people felt — this was a very good moment for India in the global context.” He said there was also support for the prime minister’s “Make in India”, “Skill India”, “Digital India” and “Smart Cities” programmes.

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