Speech at the 87th AGM of the Indian Chamber of Commerce

It is with a great sense of humility that I stand before you to deliver the Address of the 87th Annual General Meeting. Our Chamber, despite its modest size, strives to a punch above its weight by being unique and distinctive. We aspire to be forward-looking and one-step ahead through innovation and creativity. With the opening of our office in Mumbai earlier this year, we now have a stake in the ground in the nation’s financial hub and the center of gravity of Western India.

Our Chamber is completing its 90th year. We have thought it would be befitting to bring out a Commemorative Volume to celebrate this important milestone in our Chamber’s long and historic journey.

Friends, India is now poised to become the world’s fastest-growing major economy in percentage terms. While we have to go a long way to catch up with China in absolute terms, it is –is it not-a great way to begin. Over the past year, our economy has revived and business confidence is back.

Bold reforms are on the cards. While the Goods & Services Tax (GST) Bill is likely to be passed, the jury is out on the Land Acquisition Bill. We hope there will be a political consensus based on the principles of cooperative federalism. All political parties will debate and argue vigorously as is only natural in any vibrant democracy. But we hope that everyone will place the agenda of growth and development ahead of narrow partisan interests. In order to build consensus around this theme, we have in the past year invited leaders from different political parties to speak at seminars organized by us.

While we dream of harvesting demographic dividends, creation of employment for our young population remains at the front and center of our agenda for development. We all know that employment cannot be created on a large scale without expanding our manufacturing base and encouraging our entrepreneurs to invest in job-creating industries. “Make in India” Campaign is designed exactly for that purpose.

Investments will come in the form of FDI and domestic private capital. But it is critical to direct investments from government and PSUs thoughtfully and strategically.

Make in India is a comprehensive framework. The notion that Make in India will convert our nation into a sweatshop of low-paying jobs is misdirected. We have a large market and a young talent pool –these are the two key ingredients of Make in India. We have many fine examples of Make in India already .We have to multiply them,scale them and convert them into a gigantic value-creating and employment-generating locomotive.

Take the example of Maruti-Suzuki –the #4 Japanese car manufacturer which collaborated with India to become the #1 manufacturer of passenger cars in the country -exporting to third countries. That is Make in India. Take the case of Huawei-a company that focuses on creating products for digital connectivity and information pipes-it employs 3000 engineers in its R&D Center in India and co-creates products for the global market. That is the power of Make in India. Take the case of GE’s R&D Center in Bangalore which, through frugal innovation, creates medical devices that have outstanding price-performance curves. That is also Make in India.

Recently at a seminar in China (and this was picked up by the Chinese news agency Xinhua) I asked a provocative question. I said Apple products are made in China and China is also one of its largest markets, yet China creates little value for itself. It has not created an Apple.Indians are providing talent to global software companies but we have not produced either a Microsoft or an Oracle.

So why do we not learn from Airbus. France and Great Britain fought a bitter war with Germany in which millions died on both sides. But in the 1960’s they banded together to form Airbus to compete with Boeing and the rest as they say is history. Why China and India cannot come together and form an Airbus like consortium to create the next Google or Fanuc? Why Japan and India cannot come together to co-create a green society based on hydrogen fuel to replace gas and coal? Why we cannot have collaboration with the US and Germany in hi-tech manufacture?

Make in India is broad enough to embrace low-tech job generating manufacturing and hi-tech innovation. Manufacturing is the key to growth, development and poverty-reduction. Our Chamber has consistently expressed the view that in the East and the North-East, the Government and PSUs must assume a vanguard role in investing in manufacture and infrastructure to kick-start a virtuous cycle. Only then the private sector and FDI will follow.

The rejuvenation of Burnpur steel plant by SAIL and the establishment of a large gas-based power plant in Tripura are examples of how the public sector can make a huge difference as harbingers of transformational change. Similarly, the speedy implementation of connectivity projects in the North-East and infrastructure projects like the deep-sea port in West Bengal will be catalysts of transformation not just change.

Eastern India &North-East: Some Thoughts & Perspectives

While some economists in our country have written off the regions East of Kanpur, we should not allow the doomsday astrologer-economists to make self-fulfilling prophecies and write our epitaph. The point is to change the status quo. If the East and North–East remain under-developed, weak and impoverished, our nation will be distracted by disquiet and insurgencies.

In terms of location, the East and North-East regions are close to a large and vibrant hinterland that is growing faster than the rest of the world. Our connectivity is opening up new opportunities. Who imagined a decade ago that gas from Tripura would be converted into power and wheeled to Bangladesh for the mutual benefit of both countries? Who thought that businessmen from China and Bangladesh would actively look for investments in Eastern India? As connectivity improves, the East will emerge as an important piece of the growth jigsaw puzzle as we Look, Act, Invest and Make in East.

ICC Theme & Growing Presence

While we are an all-India Chamber, we are the only one headquartered in Kolkata and we are not apologetic about it. We are proud of our unwavering focus on the East and North-East and this “otherness” is indeed a badge we wear on our sleeves with pride.

When I took over as President last year, we collectively set our core theme as “Development through Connectivity”. We have come up with an Action Agenda on recommendations of improving India’s trade linkages with our neighbors and the ASEAN through improved connectivity: physical, commercial, digital and cultural. We have partnered with CUTS International to prepare a Knowledge document, which provides some break-through insights on a stronger India-ASEAN trade & investment engagement. Over the last one year, we relentlessly continued with our efforts to promote the ‘Act East’ Policy through a number of bold and strategic initiatives aligned with our core theme.

We have taken high-level delegations to Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam to constantly engage with our neighbors in the East for business and trade. In Japan, we had a high-level seminar in partnership with Deloitte Japan and JBIC which was attended by 40 C-suite executives from Japanese MNCs and 20 senior executives from India which included the President-elect of CII. We met the Governor of Japan Mr Hirohiko Kuroda and officials of the Finance Ministry, JICA and JBIC. We made an audacious bid to host the International Chamber of Commerce meeting in 2017 at Kolkata but we lost out to Sydney. I have no regrets. It was the first time we made out a strong case before the Board of International Chamber of Commerce with active and personal support from West Bengal’s Chief Minister and Finance Minister who sent two senior officials as part of our team. I can only say: we lost this time but our day will come.

ICC Initiatives & Milestones during last year

Last year we organized over 150 Conferences, events and Interactions which created the necessary platforms for exchange & dialogues between the key stakeholders and our members.

During the year, in our several Summits and Interactions, we were honored to have speakers & dignitaries like : Shri Suresh Prabhu, Hon’ble Minister of Railways, Govt. of India ; Shri Nitin Gadkari, Hon’ble Minister of Road Transport, Highways & Shipping, Govt. of India ;Shri Kalraj Mishra, Hon’ble Minister of MSME, Govt. of India ; Shri Anand Kumar, Hon’ble Minister of Chemicals & Fertilizers, Govt. of India ; Shri Radha Mohan Singh, Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture, Govt. of India ; Ms. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Hon’ble Minister of Food Processing Industries, Govt. of India ; Shri Piyush Goyel, Hon’ble Minister of State (IC), Ministry of Power, Coal & New & Renewable Energy, Govt. of India ; Dr. Jitendra Singh, Hon’ble Minister of State (IC), Ministry of DoNER, Govt. of India, Shri Tarun Gogoi, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Assam ; Dr Amit Mitra, Hon’ble Minister of Finance, Govt. of West Bengal ;Shri Bratya Basu, Hon’ble Minister of Tourism, Govt. of West Bengal ; Shri Purnendu Basu, Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture, Govt. of West Bengal ; Shri Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury, Hon’ble Minister of Food Processing Industries & Horticulture, Govt. West Bengal ; Mr Arup Roy, Hon’ble Minister of Agricultural Marketing, Govt. of West Bengal ; among others. Some of the other significant international dignitaries who have graced our International Summits overseas or in India were Mr Basil Rajapaksha, Hon’ble Minister of Economic Development, Govt of Sri Lanka ; H.E. Mr Alhaz Amir Hossain Amu, Hon’ble Minister, Ministry of Industries, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh ; H.E. U Thar Aye, Chief Minister, Sagaing Region, Myanmar ; H.E. Mr. Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk, Hon’ble Minister, Ministry of Health, Royal Govt. of Bhutan, to name only a few. We also organized with the Bangladesh Chambers a Business Meet in Dhaka on February 21 which was addressed by West Bengal’s Hon’ble Chief Minister Smt. Mamata Banerjee and Bangladesh’s Commerce Minister.

Global Initiatives & Partnerships

Throughout the year, ICC participated and led delegations to a number of International Trade Fairs and exhibitions. Some of the major international initiatives led by the Chamber during this year were : Expo-comer Panama 2015 ; Business delegation to China-South Asia Business Forum at Kunming, China ; India Invest Trade in South Korea ; Western China International Fair at Chengdu and Delegation to Sial, France, among others. The Chamber has also facilitated international delegations from China round the year and aiming to promote China-Bengal trade ties, has arranged several B2B meetings between companies from both sides. ICC’s international engagements , particularly with ASEAN countries is directly co-related to the Government of India’s ‘Act East’ Policy, and these exchanges have helped the Chamber to reach out and create global footprints through a wider range of networking.

With winds of change blowing in Iran, we have already made arrangements for a business delegation to Tehran and Mashhad later this year as the country opens up to new possibilities.

Turning now to our internal initiatives: our Ladies Study Group and Young Leaders Forum are valuable parts of ICC. They have always been innovative, enthusiastic and accretive to our brand and our mission.

During the year, we scaled up our dedicated “Trade Facilitation or B-2-B Desk”, which aims to facilitate trade & business between India and the rest of the world. The Desk today is actively catering to enquiries both from the members and non-members and acts as the single clearing-house for business matchmaking amongst Indian companies, MNCs,, Foreign Trade & Commerce Bodies along with Industry Associations. The Trade Desk has further strengthened our positioning.

Policy Advocacy

The ICC’s Economic Research Division is engaged in developing Points of View (POVs) on issues that impact us. A Monthly Economic Review is circulated to member companies – namely, ICC Policy Watch, a monthly e-newsletter capturing policy level news. ICC BFSI Newsletter is a quarterly e-magazine in Banking & Financial Services Industry. Indian Economy Tracker - a quarterly e-newsletter highlights economic data and insights. The Chamber’s newest initiative in the Research & Policy arena is ‘Act East’, an e-newsletter that monitors policy level announcements under Act East policy and a dashboard to track ASEAN nations’ delegations to India and vice versa ; MOU s, trade volumes, specific sector news and industry cooperation.

Besides in-house publications, a number of reports on key sectors like Banking, Insurance, Mutual Fund, Energy, Infrastructure, Agriculture and Environment, were done in association with our eminent Knowledge Partners like Accenture, Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Yes Bank and Value Research among others. These are now available in our new website for free download.

Way Forward & Conclusion

As I complete my year as President of this Chamber, it is time to express my gratitude and thanks. I would like to convey my heartfelt gratitude to Government dignitaries, Embassies & Consulates, our Members, Media and all our partners for their support and encouragement.

I received unstinted support from my Senior Vice President Shiv Siddhant Narayan Kaul & Vice President Aditya V. Agarwal during my tenure as President. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with them. I would like to thank the ICC Advisory Council, Members of the Executive Committee and the Chairmen of the Expert Groups for their guidance, encouragement and valuable advices. With the end of my tenure, Shiv Siddhant Kaul would lead the Chamber as the President and I am confident that under his able leadership, the Chamber will scale new heights –I wish him all the very best.

Last, but not the least, I would take this opportunity to thank our Director General, Dr. Rajeev Singh and his dedicated team for walking that proverbial extra mile. It has truly been a pleasure working with all of you

Respected Guests on the dais, I once again would like to thank you for your kind presence today. Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for all your support and encouragement to me and to the Chamber.

Thank You