Narendra Modi to give India the hard sell at World Economic Forum

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he is looking forward to sharing his vision for India's future engagement with the international community. PHOTO: REUTERS

DAVOS (ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to give India the hard sell as a global economic hot spot at the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual summit that begins in Davos on Tuesday (Jan 23).

He is the first prime minister to represent India at the WEF in more than 20 years. The last visit by an Indian prime minister was by H.D. Deve Gowda in 1997 - long before India became a world economy to reckon with.

Mr Modi left on a 36-hour trip to the Swiss Alps resort - a 2½-hour drive from Zurich - on Monday.

"In recent years, India's engagement with the outside world has become truly and effectively multi-dimensional covering the political, economic, people to people, security and other spheres," Mr Modi said in a statement on Sunday ahead of his visit.

"At Davos, I look forward to sharing my vision for India's future engagement with the international community", he said in a series of tweets hashtagged "IndiaMeansBusiness".

Mr Modi is also expected to urge world leaders to come up with a unified approach to deal with terrorism, economic imbalances and cyber threats - many WEF sessions deal with these pressing issues.

The world's top industry leaders and more than 50 heads of state and governments will brainstorm on this year's theme "Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World".

The four-day event will open on Tuesday with Mr Modi addressing a plenary session, and close on Friday with US President Donald Trump's speech, likely on his "America First" policy.

Mr Modi will showcase India as one of the main drivers of global economic growth with its market of more than a billion people and detail the steps he has taken to make the country Asia's third-largest economy, after China and Japan.

India currently is a US$2.3 trillion (S$3 trillion) economy and is poised to be the fastest growing in 2018 with a projected growth of 7.3 per cent, ahead of China, according to the World Bank's Global Economic Prospects report released earlier this month.

While Mr Modi's two back-to-back schemes - the demonetisation of high-value currency notes and the biggest tax reform since India's independence, introducing the goods and services tax - have backfired and India's growth rate has been hit, India is still seen as an economic power which cannot be ignored.

Mr Modi's Make-in-India programme and some recent investor-friendly reforms have made the country a favourite with many.

Mr Modi is due to host a reception on Monday evening to flag off India's campaign, that includes the largest-ever corporate contingent apart from half-a-dozen ministers, the Times of India reported.

"I look at this as an opportunity. When 1.25 crore Indians received a proper ecosystem and clear policies, they started taking risk and initiative. In 3½ years, India's turnaround from being part of the 'fragile five' to being a 'bright spot' is the result of the efforts of those 1.25 crore Indians," the Prime Minister was quoted as saying by the Mint. One crore is equal to 10 million.

Vijay Gokhale, secretary for economic relations in the Indian Foreign Ministry, who has been named the next foreign secretary, told reporters on Friday that Mr Modi is expected to "articulate his vision of how he sees the Indian economy contributing not only to the benefit of the people of India, but also on a global scale", PTI reported.

"The message that essentially we are going to deliver is that we are an open economy, we have done significant reforms. We offer market, we offer talent and we would like the world to come and invest in this country," he said.

Besides addressing the WEF, Mr Modi will attend a round table dinner organised for interaction with 60 CEOs, including some from India.

Of the 60, "40 of them are from 18 different countries and 20 from India. These 60 companies are across 26 different sectors and the market cap of all these companies is US$3.3 trillion", the Mint quoted Ramesh Abhishek, secretary of department of industrial policy and promotion at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, as saying.

The list includes Airbus group CEO Dirk Hoke, BAE Systems chairman Roger Carr, IBM chairman, president and CEO Ginni Rometty and Carlyle Group co-founder and co-CEO David Rubenstein.

Abhishek also said Modi will meet another set of 120 international business leaders who are members of the International Business Council, which is part of the WEF. Key figures expected to be present at this event include top executives of General Motors,, Royal Dutch Shell, BASF, Nestle and JPMorgan Chase.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is also scheduled to address a session in Davos. However, Modi and Abbasi are not expected to hold a bilateral meeting, officials have said.

India's relations with Pakistan have been at a low.

"No meeting is planned between the two Prime Ministers," Gokhale said. He also ruled out a meeting between Modi and Trump as the two leaders will not be at the venue at the same time.

Other world leaders expected to be at the WEF include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

So far, Modi's meeting with Alain Berset, President of the Swiss Confederation, has been officially confirmed.

Apart from Modi, six other Indian ministers - Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar and Minister of State for Development of North Eastern Region Jitendra Singh - also have sessions lined up at the forum.

India will also showcase its soft power in Davos. It is flying in chefs and two yoga instructors to Davos, the Times of India reported.

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