Gujarat may use GST to woo U.S.


Several U.S. State Governors and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are likely to participate in the 2017 edition of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. A team of officials from the State government and Invest India led by Gujarat Resident Commissioner Bharat Lal met U.S. business leaders and lawmakers this week in several cities.

The passage of the Goods and Services Tax Bill recently has added strength to all Indian efforts to woo American investors. The Modi government had inspired a lot of hope among American businesses initially but it did not last and the disappointment was reflected even in the State Department report on global investment climates early this year. The GST Bill has turned around the situation, and investors increasingly look at India more favourably, consequently.

Addressing a luncheon organised by the U.S.-Indian Business Council (USIBC), Mr. Lal pointed out that the GST law indicated the political consensus that has emerged in India in favour of reforms.

“Not only that Parliament passed the law with the cooperation of all major political parties, more than half of the State legislatures have approved it in record time, meeting the threshold for the Constitution amendment. This shows that across parties and across States, there is larger support for reforms,” Mr. Lal said.

“GST has convinced American companies that the Modi government is serious about reforms and is capable of doing it,” said Mukesh Aghi, President, USIBC. USIBC member companies have invested $ 28 billion in India in the last two years and investments of $ 45 billion are in the pipeline.

Secretary of State John Kerry had led the U.S. delegation to Vibrant Gujarat in 2015, the first after the Modi government came to power. Since the U.S. administration will be in transition early next year, with a new President taking office only in January, participation of federal officials may be unlikely in 2017 and the focus is on getting governors of key States in the country and business leaders such as Mr. Bezos.

 Mr. Bezos has plans to expand Amazon further in India, and had attended Mr. Modi’s address to the U.S. Congress in June.

Ahmedabad, new hub

In the second edition of Vibrant Gujarat after Mr. Modi became Prime Minister, the thrust of the State officials is not limited to projecting the State, but the entire country. Mr. Lal, a confidant of Mr. Modi, places the efforts to project Gujarat within the broader picture of the country. At the centre of this effort is showcasing Ahmedabad as a new financial centre in Asia. The Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT) opened operation four months ago.

“We hope this will emerge as a centre of financial services, competing with Dubai. Its performance over the last four months has been encouraging,” he said. GIFT has physical and technological infrastructure that is of global standards, Mr. Lal said.

Deepak Bagla, CEO of Invest India, the national investment promotion agency, pointed out that only a handful of Indian States grow above the national average right now, but other States are acting with urgency to catch up. “When 29 States catch up with the leading States, its impact on growth is going to be immense.”

A group of Indian parliamentarians, sponsored by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), also met with a cross-section of the Washington policy elite this week, and sought to sell the India story, highlighting the GST Bill.

The group comprising Baijayant Panda (BJD), Anurag Thakur (BJP) Harish Chandra Meena (BJP), Neeraj Shekhar (SP), Jayadev Galla (TDP), Rajeev Satav (INC), Sushmita Dev (INC) met U.S. lawmakers, scholars at think tanks and universities and U.S. government officials.


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