PM's US Visit: Narendra Modi unlikely to be accompanied by business delegation as PMO scraps CEO meet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be wooing American businessmen on his maiden trip to that country that starts in a few days but he's unlikely to be accompanied by an Indian 'business' delegation.

The annual meeting of the US-India CEO Forum, which is often organised to coincide with summits involving heads of the two governments, is not taking place this year. With no alternate business programme planned, there is no occasion for a delegation to travel to the US.

The CEO Forum was launched in 2005 and, with the governments of both countries involved in it, enjoyed a quasi-official status. The forum met in November 2009 and September 2011 when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to Washington as well as in November 2010, when President Barack Obama came to India.

The decision not to organise the CEO Forum on this visit was taken by the Prime Minister's Office, which is looking to change the composition of the CEOs who attend from India, persons familiar with the development said. Indian business leaders would have been happy to attend an alternate bilateral business meet, but with the government not showing much enthusiasm, no such event was organised.

Some business leaders will travel in their individual capacity to attend various events that are being organised during the visit. They are likely to attend a formal lunch for Modi hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and the US state department and a reception hosted by the US India Business Council for him in Washington, as well as the Madison Square Garden event in New York on September 28.

The Confederation of Indian Industry will host an event in New York on September 26 at which US investors will interact with Indian officials and industry experts to bring themselves up to speed with the changes and initiatives being ushered in by the Modi government, said CII president Ajay Shriram. He will also be travelling to Washington to attend the USIBC reception for Modi on September 30.

Industry watchers said too much should not be read into the decision not to take a business delegation. They pointed that the forum met in July 2013, independent of Singh's meetings with Obama in September, and that Modi's focus was to directly appeal to US business to invest in India. During his visit, Modi will meet the CEOs of leading US companies including Google, Pepsi, General Electric and Goldman Sachs.

Assocham president and YES Bank MD Rana Kapoor told ET that he would be in Washington to attend the USIBC event, where Modi is likely to meet the who's who of American industry and investors. The occasion will provide a good opportunity for engagement at various levels.

"The nuclear battery needs to be recharged and government-to-government negotiations are important for that and other areas of cooperation such as defence, security and clean energy," said Kapoor. "The PM's charisma and intensity for fixing the India growth story should resonate most with Fortune 500 firms who need to be convinced that India is back to business," he said, adding that US businesses' interest in the country's market potential has been dampened by lack of confidence in its clearance and regulatory systems that Modi has set out to correct.

Investors around the world are reviewing their "wait and watch stance" on India and are keenly looking at the changes being brought about by the new government to move away from its "business as usual approach", said Sidharth Birla, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry ( Ficci).

"Investors are not going to start cutting cheques overnight, but the PM's meetings with large US corporates could help them absorb the extent of the systemic overhaul he is undertaking, so that they can start making plans to cut cheques for India by next year," Birla said. Incidentally, Yale University and The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) are hosting an India-US energy partnership summit on September 30 and October 1, which apart from speeches by government officials, will also include a high-level corporate dialogue between private sector players from both countries. It is not yet clear who will attend this summit from India Inc.

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