NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in the United States on Friday aiming to woo corporate titans and crown a burst of investment-focused diplomacy, while marking a personal victory for a man who was for years unwelcome in the country.
Modi, who was elected in May, will spend two days in New York before heading to Washington for his first meeting with US President Barack Obama. The US leader is keen to see a strategic relationship he has called “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century” live up to its potential.
In meetings over the past month with world powers including China and Japan, Modi won investment pledges of $55 billion to support his domestic reform drive. But no such state largesse can be expected in Washington and Modi has recognised it is the US private sector he must win over.
A leader who says commerce is “in my blood,” will meet 17 US corporate chiefs including those of Google, IBM, GE, Goldman Sachs and Boeing – some at a breakfast where he is not expected to eat because he is observing a nine-day fast for the Hindu Navratri festival.
How far investors will be convinced by Modi’s promise to replace red tape with a “red carpet” remains to be seen. India this year slipped three places to 134 on a World Bank list of 189 countries ranked according to their ease of doing business.
“People are impatient because they are so eager to see India accelerate its growth again,” said Diane Farrell, acting president of the US India Business Council.
“But it’s like trying to turn an aircraft carrier – it takes time, it takes precision and it doesn’t happen in a few minutes.”
Modi’s schedule lists about 35 engagements during a 100-hour trip, including a rock-star-like address at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a speech to the United Nations and an appearance at a Central Park festival that features rap star Jay Z.
He will meet the US political elite, including leaders of Congress and former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is tipped for a White House run in 2016.
In the run-up to the trip Modi’s government gave relief to US businesses – scrapping a proposal to place anti-dumping duties on foreign solar panels and reining in a government agency that capped drug prices.
The Obama administration sees India not only as a land of huge potential for expanded business and trade but also as a strategic partner in the face of an increasingly assertive China, whose leader visited Modi in India last week.