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Infra sector to be main focus area for Indo-US commerce ties

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Washington (Nov. 12, 2014): A lot of "good ground work" has been covered, post Obama-Modi meet in the US, and now is the execution time, with infrastructure going to be the focus of the Indo-US commerce ties, a top official has said.

"In the joint statement, one of the big focus areas is infrastructure sector," Arun M Kumar, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the US and Foreign Commercial Service in the US Commerce Department's International Trade Administration, said.

He was referring to the India-US joint statement issued after the September 30 meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama.

There is an "enthusiastic" response from the US companies, he noted. Appreciative of the steps being taken by the new Indian government in "improving" the business climate in the country, he said, there were a lot of areas where improvement are required. Land acquisition is one of them, he said.

"We have seen determination (by the new government) to move forward. We definitely want to build the momentum of our interaction with the new Indian Government in the last few months," he said.

The September visit of Modi to the US and his meeting with Obama at the White House, he said, was very successful.

"We are ready to engage," Kumar said. "We are very excited about the infrastructure collaboration," he added.

"I think, we have covered a lot of good ground work. Now it is execution time," he said.

American companies have a lot of good technologies and practices to offer in the infrastructure sector, said Kumar who is now headed for his third trip to India, the last one was along with the New Delhi visit of the Secretary of State John Kerry and the Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker.

He was one of the first few top US officials to visited India after the formation of the Modi Government.

The Commerce Department is expected to play a key role in Indo-US ties now that Modi-Obama meeting agreed to take their bilateral business and trade ties to $500 billion from the current $100 billion.

"It is doable and achievable. We have just scratched the surface of our bilateral trade potential," he said in response to a question, adding that this needs a lot of action, simplification of various areas of investment, improvement in ease of doing business.

Kumar said he would like to see the Infrastructure Collaboration Platform, which was announced after Obama-Modi summit, to succeed.

As per the joint agreement, the US Department of Commerce and the Indian Ministry of Finance agreed to establish an Infrastructure Collaboration Platform that will include mechanisms to identify and clarify critical infrastructure needs of India.

It will provide a single Government of India point of contact for coordinating across ministries; and work with US and Indian industry to facilitate a substantial increase in US industry participation in the execution of Indian infrastructure projects in such sectors such as power, water, sanitation, transportation, safety and smart cities.

"We would really like to see some quick wins, some signals to the US companies that things are happening," Kumar said.

"I really feel we need some quick wins to build the momentum" he said.

US companies have expertise in a whole range of areas ranging from ports, roads, power to rail and building smart cities.

During their meeting Modi and Obama agreed that the US would help in development of three smart cities in India - Visakhapatnam, Ajmer and Allahabad.

"We have to understand, what the needs of the cities are and then find right configuration of expertise. Right now we are in the process of connecting with the cities. We would invite them to participate in the NIST Smart Cities challenge," he said adding that in each city the needs would be different.