The role of NRI lobbies: from the nuclear deal to Dow Chemicals to Nandigram

Powerful NRI lobbies in the U.S.A. such as the US-India Business Council (USIBC), US-India Friendship Council, Indian American Forum For Political Education, the US-India Political Action Committee, Coalition for Partnership with India and others have consistently pushed for the US-India nuclear deal, the chemical hub at Nandigram, and deals with Dow Chemicals.

1. USIBC pledges support for securing nuclear deal – July 23, 2008
2. US-India Friendship Council: ‘Finally, Congress party showed some spine’ – July 12, 2008
3. USIBC: Nandigram Investment Plans on track despite violence
4. NRI groups, Dow Chemicals, and the Bengal government – read RTI documents: Questions and Response from government.

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USIBC pledges support for securing nuclear deal – July 23, 2008.

The US-India Business Council (USIBC) has pledged to energise its US Chamber-sponsored “Coalition for Partnership with India” following Indian parliament’s vote of confidence in favour of the next steps in securing the civilian nuclear deal with the US.

Referring to the news from India, USIBC president Ron Somers said, “This marks a historic victory for India and for the globe. India’s responsible record in developing its existing civilian nuclear power programme will bring much-needed talent and innovation to the ‘nuclear renaissance’ underway, necessary to stem global warming.”

USIBC had spearheaded legislation in 2006 to change the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954, enabling civilian nuclear cooperation with India.

The next step in the India-US nuclear deal is to reach a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on India’s atomic power plants, setting the stage for consideration by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to waive conditions relative to New Delhi.

That will enable civilian nuclear trade in technology and fuel by the Group member countries ending the 35-year technology denial regime that has been imposed against India.

The US, Britain, France, Russia, Japan, China, and most recently Australia – all key members of the NSG – have already voiced their support for ending the embargo against civilian nuclear trade with India, a USIBC press release said.

After NSG makes its rule changes, the US Congress must ratify the so-called 123 Agreement between the US and India, which will open the way for US companies to participate in civilian nuclear cooperation with India.

“US companies look forward to cooperating with Indian companies to achieve this important energy security infrastructure build-out,” Somers said.

He conceded that “time is tight” because of the busy US Congressional calendar till the presidential election in November, but added: “We are encouraged by recent statements made by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Senator Joe Biden, who says he will find time to press for ratification of the 123 Agreement so long as India is able to complete its steps.

“USIBC and the Coalition for Partnership with India will be front and centre in this debate to ensure US Congressional passage,” Somers added.

The USIBC, formed in 1975 under the aegis of the US Chamber of Commerce, is the premier business advocacy organisation representing 280 of the largest US companies investing in India, joined by two dozen of India’s largest global companies. It is mandated to deepen US-India commercial ties.

Coalition for Partnership with India comprises American businesses, academic institutions, associations, think tanks, and like-minded individuals supporting a deeper strategic partnership with India.

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US-India Friendship Council: ‘Finally, Congress party showed some spine’ – July 12, 2008

The Indian American community and US business that had lobbied feverishly for the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, are euphoric over the recent developments where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to go ahead with the accord come what may and even in the wake of the Left coalition partners withdrawing their support and leaving the country in a state of political uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has also hailed India’s decision to submit the draft safeguards agreement to the International Atomic Energy Agency to be circulated among its board of governors, calling it “a significant step,” and declaring that Washington is “fully committed to do everything it can to move the pact forward to its conclusion.”

Swadesh Chatterjee, coordinator of the US-India Friendship Council, the umbrella body of Indian American political, community and specialty organizations that coalesced to push through the enabling legislation through Congress as a first step to make the deal happen, said, “We are all so rejuvenated after the prime minister’s decision to go through with it.”

“We feel so good that finally the Congress party had the spine to understand what is good for the national interest and call the bluff of the Left,” he told rediff.com.

“And, I am glad that other parties like the Samajwadi Party and its leaders like Amar Singh are supporting the deal.”

Thus, he said it is unlikely the Left would be in a position to “pull the government down now. So, I am really delighted at the news that the government is moving forward, because as you know, and as I had told you, the community had given up all hope.”

‘Deal or no deal, the Left would have withdrawn’

Chatterjee reiterated, “So, it is wonderful that finally it is coming through, although there are tremendous task ahead to get it through the Congress and put in on the calendar before the Congress adjourns for the year. But, at least, things are moving.”

He said he had already “started to mobilize the community and we have begun to have conference phone calls with people and all of them are feeling really good and as we did earlier, we are going to be working together and I’ve already had a long meeting with the US-India Business Council and the Coalition for Partnership with India and all the other people and we’re hopeful that we can pull it through.”

Chatterjee, continued to acknowledge, “It will be a humungous task mostly because of the logistical issue of bringing it back to Congress in time for it to be voted on. I have already spoken to (Senator Joe) Biden’s people and I’ve talked to (Congressman) Gary’s (Ackerman) people and I am going to go and see all of them next week.”

Biden is the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Ackerman is a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the subcommittee on South Asia.

Chatterjee said, besides Biden and Ackerman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has been opposed to the deal from the start and had introduced killer amendments during the debate and vote on the enabling legislation on the House floor, “will be the key players to get this done in time.”

“So, we have started the process already and we are going to bring back all the people — all the community leaders to once again put their shoulder to the wheel to get this done,” he said.

Chatterjee conceded that “true, they were all disappointed, frustrated, angry when things were not moving in Delhi, but we are Indians after all, and when it comes to the motherland, we always come forward. So, I am confident we can bring all the people back together.”

He acknowledged that “it’s not a case of the majority vote in the House and Senate — we know we will get that. But, it’s just a matter of time and whether there will be enough days in the Congressional calendar to get it done in this session, and of course, all of this depending on how quickly India can send back the 123 Agreement and how soon the US can get the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) to endorse the deal.”

‘The people of India are for nuclear deal’

Chatterjee said that “we are also trying very hard and trying to put some pressure on (Secretary of State Condoleezza) Condi Rice to bring back (former Under Secretary of State and chief US negotiator of the agreement) Nick Burns back as a consultant to pull it through because he’s the guy who understands this deal inside and out and he understands the NSG and the entire process and it’s very close to his heart.”

“He’s worked very hard on this and he has great rapport with the key players in Congress and so, he’s the ideal person to have at this moment to get it done and so it’s crucial that we have him back,” he added.

Burns, since retiring from the State Department over five months ago, has been spending time with his family and weighing his options in terms of joining the private sector, but hasn’t committed to any specific company or organization yet.

USIBC: ‘India-IAEA agreement worse than useless’

Ron Somers, president of the USIBC, also told rediff.com that “we have been closely following the breaking developments, including the very positive joint statement by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” after their meeting on the outskirts of the G-8 Summit in Japan [Images] last week.

“Obviously, when the ball comes back into the court of the United States Congress, the US business community through the US-India Business Council and its Coalition for Partnership with India will be at the forefront pushing for speedy and expedited ratification of the 123 Agreement,” he said.

Somers argued that “this is just a huge and extremely important and historic opportunity, not just for our countries but for the globe. Indeed, this is an energy security imperative and it’s an environmental imperative good for all nations.”

“So, it’s about time that India’s nuclear isolation is ended and US industry will be front and centre on Capitol Hill when the ball returns into our court to ensure speedy ratification of the 123 Agreement,” he reiterated.

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USIBC: Nandigram Investment Plans on track despite violence

This report came out in March 2007, in the wake of the Nandigram massacre.

Kolkata: US India Business Council (USIBC) president Ron Somers has come out in support of beleaguered chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee by stressing that American companies would not lose interest in the proposed chemical hub project despite the carnage at Nandigram.

“The violence in Nandigram is tragic. That said, our companies know the Bengal government’s intentions for Nandigram are progressive. The purpose of developing the chemicals hub is to create thousands of jobs,” Somers told TOI by an email on Friday.

Although the CM has announced the decision to shift the chemical hub to Haldia, officially, Nandigram remains the site for the chemical hub to be developed on 10,000 acres by a consortium led by Indonesia’s Salim group.

However, Somers implied that a shift in location was unlikely to be a cause for concern for US companies. “If we are allowed to invest, our companies will look forward to working closely with the affected local communities and make certain that those who have sacrificed their land and their livelihood will have the greatest share in the future opportunity,” he pointed out.

The USIBC chief’s statement assumes significance in the light of the fact that he has been specifically requested by Bhattacharjee and state commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen to convince American chemicals and petrochemicals giants, including the likes of Dow Chemicals, to invest in Bengal. The USIPBC represents the largest American companies investing in India.

Last year, chief secretary Amit Karan and commerce and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen had interacted Dow, without much result. Reliance Industries, which is planning a joint venture with Dow, is yet to submit a formal investment proposal for the chemical hub.

Commerce and industries mininster Nirupam Sen is likely to hardsell Bengal at the 32nd anniversary of the USIBC in Washington D.C. in June 2007. The function is slated to be attended by representatives of 450 of the top Fortune 500 companies, besides US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.