Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): Can Hillary convince Mamata Banerjee?

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): Can Hillary convince Mamata Banerjee?
Kolkata:  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived to meet West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata to explore investment opportunities in the state. Will she be able to persuade Ms Banerjee to help push the policies she has firmly resisted, chief among them Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail? (Read: A scarf, Tagore's Gitanjali among Mamata's gifts for Hillary)

Ahead of her meeting with Ms Banerjee, Mrs Clinton told NDTV that she's aware of the decisions like Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) are tough but added there are a lot of benefits to be gained too.

"The more open India becomes over time, the greater the rise in standard of living and opportunity. But I also understand politics and how these decisions can be difficult. So I will raise US desire to open market to multi-brand detail. Enormous experience can be brought to India on supply-chain management, on developing relationship with small producers. The benefits may not be immediately perceived," she said.

Ms Banerjee is the biggest roadblock for US plans to invest in the Indian market; late last year she used her position as the chief of the Trinamool Congress, a crucial ally of the UPA government at the Centre, to have a move to allow 51 percent FDI in retail put on hold.

Mrs Clinton's talks with Ms Banerjee at the Writers' Building is one of the most high-profile meetings of recent times.

The two are also expected to discuss the Teesta water treaty. The US Secretary of State held a meeting with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday in Dhaka.

The Teesta water-sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh had to be shelved during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka last September following opposition from Ms Banerjee who said that Bangladesh was getting a better deal than Bengal on water sharing.

Ms Clinton is on a three-day visit to India - the last stop of her tri-nation South Asia tour that included trips to Beijing and Dhaka.

Though the Bengal government says there is no preparation, this will be an opportunity for the CM to showcase her debt-ridden, financially crippled state to attract much-needed foreign investment.

There is unprecedented security at the West Bengal state secretariat, where ministers and employees will have to enter through a side gate with special passes today.

The media, except cameramen, will be barred from the premises. The FBI has inspected the whole building at least three times with the Kolkata Police, paying special attention to stairs and corridors through which the American entourage will pass for the meeting with Ms Banerjee. (Read: Kolkata fortified for Hillary's visit)

A series of high-level meetings took place through the weekend with the iconic Writers building also getting a last-minute paint job thanks to this visit.

After her meeting with Ms Banerjee, Ms Clinton will head to Delhi. Civil nuclear cooperation, regional security and Iran are among the key issues that she is expected to discuss with External Affairs Minister SM Krishna during their meeting tomorrow.

During her stay in the national capital, she is also expected to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during which they will review progress made in their countries' strategic partnership ahead of the India-US strategic dialogue to be held in Washington on June 13.

Both sides will discuss civil nuclear cooperation and regional security situation with New Delhi expected to brief the US Secretary of State on its proposed regional investors' meet to discuss economic development of Afghanistan.

Before all that work, on Sunday afternoon, Mrs Clinton attended a cultural programme organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and met some human rights NGOs. Later in the day, she visited Kolkata's most famous landmark, the Victoria Memorial, where an exhibition of paintings by Gaganendranath Tagore was on display.

Mrs Clinton spent Sunday night at the Taj Bengal where, sources say, she was served kebabs, Mediterranean, European, Pan-Asian, Chinese and Italian food.

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