Modi asks billionaires if China's pain can be India's gain

Published September 8, 2015
Modi chairs a chairs a high-level meeting with industry leaders and top finance bureaucrats in New Delhi. ─ AFP
Modi chairs a chairs a high-level meeting with industry leaders and top finance bureaucrats in New Delhi. ─ AFP

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called bankers and billionaires to his residence on Tuesday to brainstorm on how India can manage global economic turbulence, including opportunities for Asia's third-largest economy in China's market and growth woes.

The morning meeting in New Delhi was attended by tycoons including India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, central bank governor Raghuram Rajan, economists and state and private bank chiefs.

At the gathering, the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (Assocham) told Modi policy makers needed to act fast to "bullet proof" India from global jitters ─ calling for a deep cut in interest rates and new duties to stop dumping of Chinese products such as steel.

India's macroeconomic situation has improved considerably since the "taper tantrum" of 2013, not least thanks to lower prices for the commodities it imports. Then, inflation, for example, was at double digits ─ it has since halved.

The International Monetary Fund considers India's economy a rare bright spot among emerging markets and Modi sees a chance to attract more foreign investment as money flows out of China.

But it will not be easy to turn China's pain into India's gain. Investors and corporates increasingly worry that Modi has not moved fast enough since taking office. Annual growth slowed to 7 per cent in the June quarter.

"Mr. Modi ran a successful state. He campaigned for two years saying he knew what to do. He has been there 15 months with the largest majority since independence yet little has happened," United States investor Jim Rogers told Reuters Trading India on Tuesday. Rogers recently announced he had sold his India investments.

After farmer protests forced the government to drop a major land reform and opposition parties delayed a growth-boosting tax overhaul, expectations are growing that Modi will soon unveil new measures to make it easier for foreign money to enter India.

The government predicts India's economy will grow at 8pc or more in fiscal year 2015-2016, prodded by government spending. Yet private investment has been slow to pick up, with banks and businesses hobbled by bad debts and high lending rates.

In the real economy, there are few signs of an major economic recovery. In the construction and diamond polishing industries, for example, there have been large lay-offs.

Assocham called on central bank chief Raghuram Rajan to slash interest rates by up to 1.25pc points by March to help revive investment and growth.

Also read: Millions go on strike over ‘anti-labour’ reforms in India

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