Over last few years, business relations between India and the United States have grown very rapidly. The U.S. has traditionally been one of the largest FDI investors in India and now India has emerged as a prominent FDI investor in the U.S. To find out more about the investment opportunities available for Indian investors in the U.S. and the theme of the forthcoming SelectUSA investment summit that helps investors facilitate the investment climate in the U.S., Rajesh Mehta, Consulting Editor, and Anand Mishra, Editor, Governance Today, spoke to Mr John McCaslin, Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs at the U.S. Embassy, New Delhi. John has a long and unique experience in both commercial and foreign services and has served in various capacities in Russia, Poland and South Korea prior to his assignment in New Delhi. Edited excerpts:
In the recently announced 3rd Select USA Investment Summit in Washington DC, US Ambassador to India Richard Verma spoke about the relevance of the theme of this year’s Summit, ‘The Innovation Advantage’ to India. Could you please elaborate on this?
This year’s SelectUSA Investment Summit theme is “The Innovation Advantage”. The Summit will feature investment opportunities from every corner of the United States for global investors, where attendees will hear from high-profile business and government leaders on the latest trends and learn how the culture of innovation and related assets in the United States can contribute to the success of businesses. In India, the startup culture is booming and this country is among the world’s leaders in startups and innovation. The Government of India and the business community is adding impetus to this by encouraging employees to take risks, innovate and create. As Ambassador Verma has rightly said, “India is known for creative and dynamic thinking”, and this year’s theme of innovation will definitely resonate with Indian entrepreneurs and investors.
How does SelectUSA Summit help Indian Companies in investing in the United States?
The SelectUSA Summit is designed to help investors understand the investment climate in the U.S. and the various opportunities available across the country. The event brings together thousands of participants, allowing investors to learn from and meet with American companies and business associations, U.S. Government officials and economic development organizations (EDOs). As Vinai Thummalapally, Executive Director of SelectUSA and former U.S. Ambassador to Belize says, “For companies thinking about opening or expanding operations in the United States, there is no more efficient way to meet the right people and discover opportunities from across the entire country.”
Participants will include international and domestic companies of all sizes seeking to establish or expand operations in the United States, as well as U.S. state, regional, and local EDOs; business associations; service providers; and other organizations that facilitate business investment.
In addition to an agenda featuring high-profile CEOs, government leaders, and other experts, the Summit will include an exhibition hall where U.S. economic development organizations will host booths to present opportunities, share the advantages of their locations, and connect directly with investors. Investors can register at http://selectusasummit.us/.
What are the major incentives that Indian investors are given in investing in USA compared with other developed countries?
While I cannot comment on other developed countries’ incentives for investments, I can say that the United States is the world’s leading recipient of foreign direct investment. Several factors contribute to making the U.S. an attractive investment destination.
- Our higher education system is unmatched: we are home to 16 of the world’s top 25 universities.
- Our highly-educated workforce ranks among the most productive in the world.
- Our commitment to innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship is second-to-none: we make up nearly one-third of global research and development and 30 percent of the world’s patent applications.
- Our energy supply is stable and abundant: America is now the top oil and gas producer in the world.
- Our intellectual property protections are the gold standard; we have a transparent and predictable regulatory market; and we abide by the rule of law.
- Investors that open offices in the United States can take advantage of the dozens of free trade agreements with other countries, while offering access to a huge consumer base in the United States.
SelectUSA offers help to investors to guide their investment decisions. Specifically regarding incentives, Indian investors in the United States are treated on an equal basis as American investors, so they have access to all of the same federal programs. The SelectUSA website, http://selectusa.commerce.gov/investment-incentives.html, has a wealth of information about federal business programs. SelectUSA can also help investors learn about the many incentives offered at the state level.
Also, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has written a very good survey of Indian companies’ state-by-state operations in the United States called “Indian Roots, American Soil”. I highly recommend that investors take a look at that report.
But investors do not need to do all of this research alone. We are here to provide investors information that they need to guide their decisions. Also, there are nine U.S. states and one county that have official representatives in India, which can be introduced through our team in seven offices across India. And SelectUSA can be an ombudsman for investors that face a challenge with government regulations or processes.
India is the fourth fastest growing source of FDI in US with $11 bn investment in US last year. Could you please give details about the sectors which attract Indian Investors the most?
The top industry sectors by the number of announced Indian FDI projects in the U.S. are in the sectors of Software & IT Services; Business Services; Financial Services; Pharmaceuticals; Plastics; and Industrial Machinery.
Of late, there has been a rise in protectionist sentiment in US about foreign trade and inflow of foreign workers. How do you see these impacting the business sentiments?
Mission India continues to process the world’s largest number of H1-B and L-1 temporary worker cases. In FY 2015, Indian citizens received 69 percent of all H-1B visa and 30 percent of all L-1 visas issued worldwide, more than any other country. Mission India also issued more than 110,000 H-1B visas in FY 2015, more than any other time in history.
Overall visa demand for all categories of visas has seen unprecedented growth. In FY 2015, our posts in India adjudicated visas for over one million applicants for the first time, and the demand for visas continues to rise. Travel for tourism, business, and education has seen unprecedented growth: a 152 per cent increase in overall visa applications for Indians wishing to travel to the U.S., reaching a total of over one million applications in FY 2015. We are committed to issuing a U.S. visa to every Indian citizen who qualifies for one – whether the visa is to work, study, or to visit family and friends in the United States. Although the majority of applications are processed and ready to pick up within 2-3 business days, some applications may require additional time, so it’s always a good idea to apply early. Accurate information about the visa process can be found on http://www.ustraveldocs.com/in/
Regarding foreign trade, a recent study by the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers presents empirical evidence about the effects of enhanced U.S. trade and U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs). The study showed that U.S. businesses must overcome an average tariff hurdle of 6.8 percent, in addition to numerous non-tariff barriers (NTBs), to serve roughly 95 percent of the world’s customers outside American borders. The United States is already one of the most open markets in the world, meaning that the main impact of new trade agreements with the United States would be to decrease foreign barriers to U.S. exports. In 2014, almost 70 percent of U.S. imports crossed American borders duty-free, but many U.S. trading partners maintain higher tariffs that create steep barriers to U.S. exports. It is important to remember these facts when considering whether there is a “protectionist sentiment” in dealing with the United States.
Further, the SelectUSA Investment Summits for 2013 and 2015 were oversubscribed, with representatives from state and local governments across the United States showing their enthusiasm for foreign investment. Last year, the President and six Members of his Cabinet made it very clear that the United States warmly welcome foreign companies.
Next year, a new US administration would assume office. How do you visualize it impacting the business environment for potential investors?
While there is currently uncertainty about the outcome of the election this November, I am confident that the United States will remain an attractive business environment that is deeply engaged in international economic issues. As a whole-of-government program, SelectUSA enjoys broad support from both parties of the U.S. Congress and has so far demonstrated solid results in attracting new foreign direct investment into the United States.
What would be the top action points on which you would like to see action in India to further the business and commercial relations between India and the US?
In September 2015, the United States and India engaged in the first U.S. – India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD) in Washington DC. The next S&CD will take place in New Delhi later this year, in which both countries will discuss solutions to complex problems, while also highlighting areas of cooperation that benefit the industries in both our countries. Four core themes will be discussed during the S&CD, which we believe will unlock new opportunities for both U.S. and Indian companies:
- Ease of doing business;
- Collaboration on the development of Infrastructure;
- Innovation and entrepreneurship; and
- Standards wherein both countries will identify priority sectors where cooperation could lead to positive outcomes for bilateral trade.