US to Invest Billions in Indian Power Sector; Peasants Protest

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - During the recent visit to America by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the United States agreed invest $5.6 billion dollars in the Indian industrial power sector, a senior official of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said on Sunday.

However, Indian peasant groups are opposing the entry of US seed giant Monsanto into the country. French and Canadian peasant leaders, attending a conference, are lending a helping hand to Indian farmers to oppose the globalization of the seed sector.

The direct investment of $5.6 billion dollars in the power sector is a very reasonable achievement, said PTK Bhowmik, a senior advisor in the CII, who accompanied Vajpayee to the US as a part of the business delegation.

"The long-term potential is even bigger. This visit really heralds the beginning of a new trade relationship.

"This visit should be seen as a start of a new economic relationship. The ground has been prepared by both Vajpayee and US President Bill Clinton for opening up new business opportunities.

"We have set aside political differences to give priority to economic interests above other issues," Bhowmik said.

He added, "We hope the pace of US investments will now be faster. If we do the follow-up, there should be no reason for US investors not to invest money in the power, telecommunications, IT and road sectors."

"We expect 15 billion dollars worth of foreign direct investment (FDI) to flow into India in the next five years," Bhowmik said.

Increasing economic ties between the two countries was evident from the fact that Microsoft chief Bill Gates and Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, visited India while Vajpayee was in the United States and unveiled a new list of multi-million dollar projects.

"Abundant skilled manpower, a pool of English-speaking workers, a booming info-tech sector - these are only some of our strengths," Arun Bharat Ram, president of the CII said.

During the Indian prime minister's visit to the US, the Export-Import Bank of the United States signed three agreements with Indian financial bodies worth almost one billion dollars to back US exports to India.

Despite the hype, India accounts for less than one percentage point of total US foreign trade. This asymmetry has to be redressed if the India-US relationship is to have a firm foundation. This, in turn, relates to Vajpayee's assertion that India's per capita income will double in the next decade, according to Indian economic analyst Uday C Bhaskar.

These economic objectives are within the realm of feasibility, but only if there is a much greater demonstration of national and societal resolve to convert existing and imagined challenges into viable opportunity, Bhaskar added.

Indian Prime Minister Vijpayee was accompanied to the US by representatives of companies accounting for more than 30 percent of the total stock market capitalization in India.

India's Foreign Investment Promotion Board approved US investments worth about 12.4 billion dollars between 1991 and 1998. During that seven-year period, only 1.6 billion dollars actually materialized.

The US imposed sanctions and investment restrictions after India carried out nuclear tests in 1998. However, the visit by US President Bill Clinton earlier this year and the visit by Vajpayee to the US earlier this month has raised optimism of increased economic ties.

Indo-US bilateral trade exceeded 12 billion dollars for the first time in 1999. Textiles, polished diamonds, carpets, prawns, footwear, leather goods and cashew nuts account for 75 percent of Indian exports to the US.

Meanwhile, Indian peasant groups and foreign delegates on Sunday vowed to launch a campaign against globalization of the seed industry and resolved to oppose the entry of Monsanto, a US-based agro-chemical and seed firm.

"The liberalization of the seeds industry and the arrival of the gene giant Monsanto has resulted in frequent crop failures, huge expenses for pesticides and high levels of debt for the farmers," said Vandana Shiva, an Indian ecologist who is heading a farmers' conference.

"Genetic engineering of seeds is failing in industrialized nations. In Europe, it is not commercial to sell them. So, they are targeting Asia and India. Monsanto will collapse if it does not grab the Indian market," Shiva said.

About 100,000 farmers are expected to participate in a rally in the southern Indian city of Bangalore on Monday to protest against the liberalization of the seed sector.

Monsanto has been in the thick of controversy in India after the government cleared a plan for trials of genetically engineered cottonseeds despite opposition from non-governmental forums.

Jose Bove, France's anti-globalization hero, and Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, both of whom are attending the conference, said farmers all over the world must continue to fight the influx of corporate giants.

Bove said, "Only big companies will decide what is going to be good for farmers. If this goes on, the farming community is going to be on the outside looking in."

The world's top 10 seed companies control one-third of the $23 billion commercial seed trade industry and account for 44 percent of sales globally.