“We need to make India a more attractive investment destination by making it an easier place to do business,” said Gautam Banerjee, Senior Managing Director and Chairman of Blackstone Group, Singapore. The former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) will be the chair of an Infrastructure Roundtable discussions at the ASEAN India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) on January 6-7, 2018.
As an independent director on the Board of multiple companies stretching across various industries such as Singapore Airlines Limited, Piramal Enterprises Limited, The Indian Hotels Company Limited and GIC Private Limited, he is eminently qualified for the role.
“Poor and inadequate infrastructure has had an adverse impact on India’s development and economic growth particularly in areas like manufacturing. The infrastructure roundtable will bring together various stakeholders for an informed and frank discussion on the challenges and opportunities that are offered by the Infrastructure sector in India,” he said.
Connected to India (CtoI) asked Mr Banerjee about his expectations and preparations for the roundtable. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
CtoI: Why is there a need to have an Infrastructure Roundtable during the ASEAN India PBD?
Gautam Banerjee: The need to improve Infrastructure is one of the key priorities for India. There is an urgent need for more airports, ports, roads and highways, good quality warehousing and logistics just to give a few examples. Poor and inadequate infrastructure has had an adverse impact on India’s development and economic growth particularly in areas like manufacturing.
The infrastructure roundtable will bring together various stakeholders for an informed and frank discussion on the challenges and opportunities that are offered by the Infrastructure sector in India.
CtoI: Who will be involved in the Roundtable and what are the desired outcomes?
Gautam Banerjee: We have invited financial investors, consultants experienced in public-private partnerships, companies who have successfully developed infrastructure in India, engineering contractors with India experience to take part in the Roundtable.
The discussion will focus on the impediments to infrastructure development in India, how to overcome these impediments based on the experience of the panellists both in India and other markets. There will be also be sharing of best practice and raising awareness of the opportunities in India.
CtoI: Will the aviation sector be covered in the infrastructure Roundtable?
Gautam Banerjee: Yes, we plan to cover the India aviation industry which is one of the most under-penetrated markets for aviation compared to other developing countries. There is tremendous scope for improving accessibility and connectivity by expanding aviation infrastructure and airline capacity in India.
Several ASEAN countries have developed successful aviation infrastructure and strong national airlines and could play a role in developing India’s aviation and airline industries.
CtoI: Can you identify some sectors that India and ASEAN should focus on to increase cross-border trade and development?
Gautam Banerjee: Some of the areas would include financial services, including digital banking and FinTech, Agriculture and food processing, Transport and logistics, City and town planning and urban development.
CtoI: How could we speed up trade and investment between India and ASEAN?
Gautam Banerjee: We need to make India a more attractive investment destination by making it an easier place to do business. In the last year, there has been progress on this front but India is still far down the list of the world’s most competitive economies. Much more needs to be done to reduce unnecessary business complexity, obtain quicker regulatory and other clearances and provide a more level playing field for foreign investors. India requires capital, but foreign capital will only be deployed in India if the returns are competitive on a risk-adjusted basis with other investment destinations.
One should also appreciate that ASEAN countries are at various stages of development. Some ASEAN countries are developed and are already capital and technology exporting countries while other ASEAN countries are still developing and could offer Indian companies investment and export opportunities.
So, one cannot take a “one size fits all” approach to developing trade and investment between India and ASEAN.
Also, one has to accept that trade and investment between India and all ASEAN countries will not grow at the same speed. Geographical proximity to India, historical, cultural and people-to-people interactions and ties built over many years will have an impact on trade and investment between India and the different countries within ASEAN.