November 6, 2008

Buddha looks to Chinese auto firm to save Singur

Kolkata, Nov. 5: Undaunted by the Tata Motors’ pullout from Singur, the West Bengal government is still keen on developing an automobile-manufacturing hub in the state. There are three automobile clusters in the country covering the northern, western and the southern regions. The state government, therefore, is eager to bring up a hub in the eastern region too.
The state government has included Singur in a list of sites being considered by Chinese automobile manufacturer First Automobile Works Limited (FAW) for setting up base in India. Rendian Sheng, vice president of First Automobile, who met chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and industries minister Nirupam Sen at the state secretariat, has expressed interest in opening an automobile manufacturing unit in the state in collaboration with Ural India Limited.

Ural already has a presence in West bengal in heavy vehicles manufacturing, with a heavy trucks manufacturing unit in Haldia. The unit caters mostly to the defence sector. ''FAW is China's largest automobile manufacturing company and has shown interest in setting up an automobile unit in West Bengal. It will make all kinds of cars, including heavy vehicles,'' Sen said.
Sen, however, declined to say whether the government plans to offer if the Singur plot to the company, although he said it can be a possible location. Sites in Kalyani, Haldia and Kharagpur have also been discussed with the FAW, he said.

FAW is planning to set up a joint venture with Ural India for manufacturing small cars and buses. The joint venture would make 5,000 small cars a month priced at Rs1.6 lakh each, said JK Saraff, chairman of Ural India. The joint venture was looking for a 600 acre plot and Saraff said the discussion was a preliminary one. While land in Singur was developed, at the same time, it had been leased out to another company, he pointed out.

FAW, the biggest car manufacturer in China, produces 20 lakh cars every year. The company has worked in collaboration with auto majors like Mazda, Toyota, Audi, Valkswagen and have expertise in small cars, buses, omnibus and heavy vehicles. A 15-member Chinese team, led by Li Xiansheng, executive governor of Hubei province in China, is reported to have also met urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and power minister Mrinal Banerjee to discuss many things, including investment opportunities in Bengal.
“We welcome Chinese investments, as well as the industrial sector, to look at the state as a potential-automobile manufacturing hub. The growing expertise in the automobile sector is an advantage for the Chinese companies,” said Sabyasachi Sen, principal secretary, department of commerce & industries, government of West Bengal. He was speaking at a seminar on Chinese investment opportunities in Bengal, in Kolkata on Monday. “From the ‘90s, the state is on the path of industrial revival,” Sen said, adding that there are huge investment possibilities in leather, engineering, IT, biotechnology and infrastructure sectors in the state. “There are very good investment opportunities for manufacturing capacities of electrical goods in the state,” he said.

According to SP Yadav, executive director, West Bengal Industrial Development Corp Ltd, the state offers opportunities and has immense potential in sectors like iron & steel, real estate, hospitality & tourism, IT & ITeS, retail, chemicals & petrochemicals, leather, infrastructure and engineering. “The state has around 75 projects worth $990 million in iron & steel sector in the pipeline,” Yadav noted. Also, in sector like retail, the investments would touch $1.12 billion by 2010, he added.

From January to September 2008, Sino-Indian bilateral trade stood at $42 billion and by the end of this year, it is estimated to reach $56 billion, according to Mao Siwei, consul general of China in Kolkata. “The target is to reach $60 billion by 2010 but it seems the target would be achieved before time,” he said. The number of Indians visiting China has also increased considerably in the last few years. “A large delegation, comprising the governor of Yunnan province, businessmen and performing artists, are set to visit the city next month to promote economic and cultural co-operation between the two states,” Siwei added

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