India needs open trade policy, says NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant

ndia needs to open its economy in a major way to overcome the challenges in becoming a 21st century knowledge economy, Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer of National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog said.

“India needs to open up on trade policy. It has become a centre for global innovation in many ways,” he said at the One Globe Forum conference on Saturday.

“India must realise that it’s an integral part of the global supply chain. And despite protectionism, Trumpism and Brexit, we are a globalised world. Things will get designed somewhere, manufactured somewhere else, all the integration will take place at one place. In past couple of years, we have opened up in a major way in defence, railways, e-commerce and housing,” he added.

Kant said in the next five decades, India will see rapid urbanisation and this should be done sustainably. “India has seen very reluctant governance. All our schemes are for rural development and we have not invested adequately in urbanisation,” he said.

The sixth edition of One Globe Forum was held in New Delhi on 10 and 11 February. Over 50 global leaders in the fields of business, government, civil society, military and media came together to discuss challenges facing South Asia. Some of the key themes were:

Doing business with President Trump

Shalabh Kumar, a major contributor to US President Donald Trump’s election campaign, talked about increasing trade relations between India and the US.

“Our goal as Indian-American Advisory Council to President Trump is to increase bilateral trade from $100 billion per year now to $300 billion per year in the first four years of President Trump. Overall policy, geopolitically for the US is to have very close partnership with India, including developing the country as a second source in terms of manufacturing,” said Kumar.

Highlighting the issue of H1-B visa, a cause of concern for Indian IT professionals, he said nothing is happening on that front through executive orders.

“Only thing which is going to happen is the enforcement of the current laws. There is some amount of abuse in the H1-B visa system that will be tightened up,” he added.

Building smart cities and infrastructure

Rao Inderjit Singh, minister of state (independent charge) for planning, urban development, housing and urban poverty alleviation stressed on the need to develop more “liveable” cities.

“By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. If India has to prosper, cities should become liveable. In India, we have 160 million children, of whom 47 million live in urban areas, including 8 million in slums. Slums are the breeding grounds of violence. To ensure that India does not lose its demographic advantage, we have to plan accordingly,” he said.

Singh said the government’s endeavour is to build 100 smart cities. For the sixty cities selected so far, 135,000 projects are being taken up by the special purpose vehicles.

Yatish Rajawat, chief strategy officer, LocalCircles said each city is getting Rs.100 crore per year for the next five years under Smart Cities Mission, which is a miniscule amount. “There is a huge need for capital… why isn’t the government doing anything for raising capital?” he asked.

“Centre and state governments can only incentivise and kick-start work. Our city governments are poorly leveraged and have not been able to leverage land resources, human resources and other assets. The rules and regulations bind them and they have never been allowed to be autonomous. This is the reason they don’t raise enough money,” said Raghav Chandra, former chairman, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

Make in India: Creating 100 million jobs by 2022

Ashok Atluri, chairman and managing director, Zen Technologies said the initiative doesn’t focus on intellectual property and it needs to have a larger focus on design and development.

“Companies overseas do see value of design and development along with resourcing,” said Makarand Chipalkatti, managing director, Dr Chips Consulting LLC.

CVR Murthy, president, Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur stressed on the need for outcome-based technical education instead of faculty education to create talent pool for Make in India’s success.

Using fintech to transform banking

Pallav Sinha, founder and chief executive officer of MeraJob India, said cash is never going out. “Payments by itself are not going to transform business, because payments are a value add to customers, you can have convenience but I think credit is going to be the driver in India. For banking, lending has been the most profitable business. I think in the next few years, credit will grow fast,” said Sinha.

Other panelists, however, said payments will scale up fastest in fintech space. “Payments will continue to grow fast for the next decade at least. Government is going to be overcrowding investments because of lack of distribution. Yes, there is definitely scope for growth in India… However, no answers for Bharat yet,” said Nita Kapoor, head of India new ventures, News Corp, who moderated the session.

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