U.S., India Sign $1.4 Billion in Business Deals : South Asia: American official reports no progress in urging speedier economic reforms.

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

U.S. Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown oversaw the signing of U.S.-Indian business agreements worth $1.4 billion Monday but reported no progress in persuading India to speed economic reforms.

Brown began a weeklong visit to India on Sunday to urge top government officials to open its service sector wider to foreign investment and increase its protection of intellectual property rights.

Executives of top American companies that do business in India told him they still face many obstacles despite reforms to date.

The executives urged Brown to encourage India to lower tariffs further, simplify time-consuming regulations and reduce corruption in the bidding procedure for new business deals.


Later, Brown oversaw the signing of India-U.S. business deals valued at $1.4 billion, mostly in India’s antiquated markets of telecommunications and power production.

Brown and Commerce Minister Pranab Mukherjee also signed an agreement creating the U.S.-India Commercial Alliance, a panel of government and private sector officials, to promote more deals.

The panel will encourage Indo-U.S. trade in areas such as oil, power, mining, telecommunications and transport.

India launched reforms in 1991, and they are opening its economy and allowing the Third World nation’s industries, exports and foreign investment to grow rapidly. But the government has admitted the reforms still have a long way to go and that some sectors of India oppose them.


Despite the reforms, India still lags behind nations such as China and Indonesia in attracting foreign investment.

Brown met with local executives of U.S. companies such as Citibank, AT&T;, Pepsico, Hewlett-Packard and General Electric to discuss India’s economic reforms. Many of the executives urged Brown to ask the government to speed reforms so it will be easier to do business there.

“We need reductions on tariffs and duties on products we want to manufacture and import to India,” Scott R. Bayman, the president of GE India, told Brown during the breakfast meeting.

Bayman said American companies also need major improvements in India’s outmoded roads, telephone services and power systems “to reach our global customers in a timely manner.”


Sunil Mehta, a Citibank vice president, said India has barely begun to deregulate the complex and out-of-date regulations that still control how and where banks can invest and lend money.

Suresh C. Rajpul, president of Hewlett-Packard India Ltd., complained that India, like many other poor countries, doesn’t adequately protect intellectual property rights.

Among the contracts, Mission Energy Co., an Irvine-based subsidiary of SCEcorp, said it signed an agreement with India’s largest private consortium, the Tata Group, to build a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant valued at $400 million in Jamshedpur, in the state of Bihar.