September 19, 2008

Nano effect: US team cancels city visit

KOLKATA: In a major blow to Bengal’s overseas image, an influential US-India Business Council (USIBC) delegation has cancelled its two-day visit to Kolkata because of the Singur controversy. The visit was scheduled to begin on September 21. The Washington-based council — which represents some of the biggest US enterprises — conveyed its decision to the Kolkata chapter of Amcham India on Thursday.
About 15 rooms booked for USIBC delegates at a leading deluxe hotel in central Kolkata have already been cancelled. “Due to concerns expressed by USIBC member-companies relating to the political dimension (that) these protests have taken, the Kolkata leg of the USIBC executive mission stands cancelled,” USIBC president Ron Somers wrote in an email to Amcham Kolkata chapter chairman Gulshan Sachdev. “It is, indeed, unfortunate that Bengal’s political situation has worsened such that the flagship Tata Nano project is not only unable to operate but is presently under siege. My deep regret is that the young people of Bengal, who so badly want and need employment, are the losers in the political tug of war unfolding at Singur,” Somers added.
The USIBC president further said that the chamber could consider visiting Kolkata only if “order is restored to the satisfaction of the esteemed Tata Group of companies”. “USIBC can reconsider a mission to West Bengal, which is the gateway to the East beckoning great possibilities, but must first sustain an environment supportive of business,” he added. USIBC had previously decided to send its team led by Cargill president (Asia) Paul Conway.
Apart from interacting with local businessmen, the delegates would have interacted with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Industry observers, however, did not express surprise at the cancellation saying that it was on expected lines as USIBC had been hesitant about coming to Kolkata ever since problems started at the Nano plant on August 24 forcing the Tatas to suspend work at the Singur factory. “We would have been pleasantly surprised had the USIBC trip to Kolkata gone through,” another industry source said. Indications of a possible cancellation of the Kolkata leg of the USIBC delegation’s India trip had been given by Somers on September 2 itself (the day Tata Motors announced that it was suspending work at Singur). In an e-mail to TOI, Somers had then said: “If Ratan Tata cannot succeed in West Bengal, then how can an American investor hope to succeed there? Suspension of work at Singur is a tragic setback — for the Tata Group, for West Bengal, and for the thousands of lost downstream jobs such an industry will create.”
The USIBC team’s visit to Kolkata in September had assumed significance since it would have been the first by a high-profile overseas business delegation since the Left withdrew support to the Manmohan Singh government. This trip was earlier supposed to be held in March. The USIBC delegates, however, would be visiting Hyderabad and Delhi as per the original “three-city mission to India” lined up for September 21-25 to explore opportunities in agriculture, retail, real estate and supply chain management. Meanwhile, the US consulate in Kolkata claimed that the cancellation of the USIBC trip was caused by time-pressure.

19 Sep 2008, 0505 hrs IST, Sumali Moitra,TNN

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