2020 West Coast Summit

Highlights from USISPF’s 2020 West Coast Summit: Growing US-India Ties Through Startups

The US-India Strategic Partnership Forum kicked off its “Startup Connect Program” at its virtually held West Coast Summit. Focused on strengthening US-India bilateral ties through startups, the summit brought together over 300 executives including 100 startups, 100 Fortune 500 companies, and senior officials from both governments. 

Speakers at the launch included: Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Ambassador of India to the United States; Keith Krach, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, U.S. Department of State; John Chambers, Founder and CEO, JC2 Ventures & Chairman of USISPF; Shantanu Narayen, Chairman, President, and CEO, Adobe; Raj Subramaniam, President & COO, FedEx Corporation; and several startup founders.  

Read our press release here.

Highlights from the Summit

Conversation on US-India Relationship

In a virtual ‘fireside chat’ with John Chambers, Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu, the Ambassador of India to the U.S., highlighted the importance of technology to both countries’ ability to respond and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. He pointed to U.S.-India’s long-standing partnership in critical sectors, such as health care, life sciences, and technology, as critical to addressing current challenges, and categorized young innovators and their startups as a key driver of economic growth that will continue to bring the countries together. Finally, he outlined his priorities as the Indian ambassador to the U.S., including addressing U.S. visa issues, deepening trade relations, and attracting investment on both sides. He also expressed his optimism about the possibility of finalizing a smaller trade agreement in the near future.

Economic Diplomacy Enabling Startups

In conversation with John Chambers, Keith Krach, the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment at the U.S. Department of State, outlined his three priorities as economic security, economic competitiveness, and building an Economic Prosperity Network of trusted partners. He pointed to India as an important partner in achieving these goals and highlighted the importance of cooperation between the U.S. and India in safeguarding intellectual property and global economic security, particularly in light of the challenges presented by China.

Leadership in a Post COVID-19 World

In a discussion moderated by Uniphore Founder and CEO Umesh Sachdev, Shantanu Narayen, the Chairman, President, and CEO of Adobe, and Raj Subramaniam, the President and COO of FedEx Corporation, shared their insight as business leaders into the opportunities and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, to startups and large corporations alike. They both emphasized the importance of approaching the current crisis as an opportunity for innovation, and highlighted technology, digitization, and data as key assets for companies to adapt to the “new normal.” Another point emphasized by both leaders is the importance of corporate culture.

USISPF Briefing on Emerging Markets Credit Outlook by Moody’s

USISPF Briefing on Emerging Markets Credit Outlook by Moody’s

On May 12, Rahul Ghosh, Senior Vice President of Global Emerging Markets, Credit Strategy & Research, at Moody’s, joined USISPF members on a webinar to share high-level views on the credit outlook of emerging markets.

Overall, Mr. Ghosh highlighted that the pandemic’s economic and financial fallout will heighten credit risks for emerging market issuers. While external and fiscal buffers vary across regions, low-rated sovereigns with large external repayments are most vulnerable to prolonged stress. Additionally, the fallout from the pandemic will increase the corporate default rate in emerging markets over the coming year. Finally, he noted that future challenges, as the world recovers from COVID-19, include lower rates and higher government debt, changing consumer habits, climate risks, protectionism, tech disruption, and income inequality.

His presentation focused on emerging markets more broadly, but during the Q&A session with USISPF members, Mr. Ghosh evaluated India’s ongoing fiscal response to the economic impact of COVID-19, including the RBI’s measures to increase liquidity, as well as some proposed or hypothetical steps the Government of India could take in the future. He also provided his insight on the impact the current global economic challenges could have on India’s banking and non-banking financial company (NBFC) sectors.

USISPF Briefing with USAID

USISPF Briefing with USAID

On May 5, Javier Piedra, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Asia, USAID, and Ramona El Hamzaoui, Deputy Mission Director for India, USAID, joined USISPF members on a webinar to discuss USAID’s COVID-19 response in India. Other colleagues from USAID were also on the webinar including Public Health Program Specialist Sangita Patel and Nahel Sanghavi, Senior Advisor for Innovation & Partnership, to share insights into efforts related to their specific expertise.

Javier Piedra began the discussion by highlighting that, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the U.S. government has committed more than $775 million to aid in more than 120 countries. In India, he pointed to the importance of addressing ‘second order effects’ of COVID-19, such as supply chain issues, as well as its immediate impact.

Ms. El Hamzaoui spoke on shift in USAID’s relationship with India, highlighting the agency’s current partnership-based initiatives to support not just India’s development but India’s role in the region and globally. So far, to address COVID-19 in India, USAID has provided $6 million in aid to support the Government of India’s response efforts. Interagency teams have supported initiatives ranging from helping female textile workers shift to mask production to training health care workers in contact tracing. USAID has also been assisting with initiatives to ensure that other health issues are not ignored during the COVID-19 crisis, from developing an app to support mother and infant health to facilitating the export of vital HIV/AIDS medication from India to Laos.

During a Q&A period with USISPF members moderated by USISPF Senior Advisor Vikram J. Singh, Ms. El Hamzaoui, Mr. Piedra, Ms. Patel, and Mr. Sanghavi spoke on topics ranging from India’s health care infrastructure and medical supply and pharmaceutical industries, to innovative solutions from the Indian technology sector and the CSR contributions of private-sector partners.

USISPF Briefing with Mugdha Sinha, Secretary (Science & Technology), Government of Rajasthan

USISPF Briefing with Mugdha Sinha, Secretary (Science & Technology), Government of Rajasthan

On May 5, Mugdha Sinha, Secretary of Science & Technology for the Government of Rajasthan, joined USISPF members through USISPF’s ongoing webinar series. In a discussion moderated by USISPF Chief Operating Officer Gaurav Verma, Ms. Sinha spoke on the Government of Rajasthan’s COVID-19 response and relief efforts, and the role that technology has played in this response.

Speaking on the Government of Rajasthan’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Ms. Sinha highlighted the proactive creation of two committees shortly after the first lockdown was announced, to address the needs of people from other states stranded in Rajasthan during the lockdown and to develop a post-COVID-19 economic strategy. Now that the lockdown is in its third stage, relaxing restrictions on movements in some district and allowing businesses and factories to resume activities, the Government of Rajasthan is now working to help people from Rajasthan who have been stranded elsewhere, domestically or abroad. Ms. Sinha identified new challenges related to these efforts, such as screening and quarantine measures to prevent new outbreaks of COVID-19 and increased demand for rural jobs as migrant workers return to their homes, but highlighted that so far, Rajasthan’s containment efforts have been efficient, effective, and proactive. She also highlighted that these efforts have been calibrated to save lives without risking livelihoods.

In terms of how Rajasthan has leveraged technology in its COVID-19 response, Ms. Sinha noted that ‘e-governance’ measures were already in place prior to the lockdown, which eased the transition to working from home for government officials. As well as contact tracing apps and processes virtually connecting the Government of Rajasthan to its constituents, the state has leveraged technological solutions to continue providing public access to cultural activities such as museums, which also provides continued employment to artists and artisans.

USISPF Briefing with Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Advisor to the Government of India

USISPF Briefing with Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Advisor to the Government of India

On April 29, Sunjeev Sanyal, principal economic advisor to the Government of India’s Ministry of Finance, briefed USISPF members on the state of the Indian economy and what is in store as the country reopens from its COVID-19 lockdown.

In a discussion moderated by Kaku Nakhate, President and Country Head, India, for Bank of America, Sanyal highlighted that India – and the rest of the world – should not imagine that economic recovery will mean a return to the pre-coronavirus world, but a ‘fundamental reset.’ He also said that India will play an active role in this post-coronavirus round of ‘rule-setting,’ pointing to the recent G20 endorsement of an action plan formed by the framework working group co-chaired by India and the UK. On the possibility of India playing a larger role in the restructuring of global supply chains, he said that the country has to be flexible and work with industry and partners as the situation continues to evolve.

In terms of the Government of India’s policy response to the economic impacts of COVID-19, he characterized this approach as having three steps. The initial step was to cushion the economic impact of COVID-19 through efforts such as the stimulus package targeting India’s most vulnerable citizens and pushing back financial deadlines. It is now shifting into the ‘opening up’ stage, as the staggered relaxation of India’s lockdown has allowed many areas to resume manufacturing and the movement of goods. At some point, the approach will ramp up for the ‘rebuild’ stage. Sanyal also noted that India has been successful in not expending its resources too quickly, giving it the monetary and fiscal space needed to respond as recovery efforts continue.

In a Q&A session with USISPF members, Sanyal provided updates on and insight into topics such as India’s new FDI rules, the current low oil prices, India’s fiscal deficit post COVID-19, and calls for increased spending on medical infrastructure, which he warned must include funding for public health and sanitation as well as hospitals. When asked on what economic reforms India should prioritize as it reopens, Sanyal noted that it depends on feedback from companies, but a lot of action will have to happen at the state, rather than the federal, level— pointing to Uttar Pradesh as a state which has already risen to the occasion.

Tackling the Pandemic: How Governments Are Supporting Businesses – Views From the US, Europe and India

Tackling the Pandemic: How Governments Are Supporting Businesses – Views From the US, Europe and India

USISPF and Squire Patton Boggs co-hosted a webinar briefing members on the latest policy responses to COVID-19 from a U.S., European, and Indian perspective. Speakers included Frank Samolis, Partner at Squire Patton Boggs; Ambassador Frank Wisner, International Affairs Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs; former U.S. Representative Joe Crowley; Matthew Kirk, International Affairs Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs; David Stewart, Principal at Squire Patton Boggs; and Dharmakirti Joshi, Chief Economist at CRISIL.

David Stewart, Matthew Kirk, and Dharmakirti Joshi spoke on the respective government efforts of the U.S., Europe, and India to reopen their economies while continuing to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. David Stewart opened the discussion by highlighting the U.S. government’s economic stimulus efforts in response to COVID-19, including the CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program, and the Main Street Lending program. In Europe, different countries have different in their impact and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but across countries, efforts to reopen the economy largely involve adhering to social distancing measures, using track-and-trace systems to contain the further spread of the coronavirus, and financial packages. Dharmakirti Joshi stated that, while India has a limited fiscal space in which to organize its response, the country has several options to finance its response. He also noted that India has not “front-loaded” its response, and the next phase of its policy response should be aimed at support for small and medium businesses.

In a Q&A session with USISPF President and CEO Mukesh Aghi, Joe Crowley, Frank Wisner, and Frank Samolis shared their perspectives on the relationship between the U.S. and India. Rep. Crowley shared his insight into how the relationship between the U.S. and India has grown over the past few decades, and Frank Samolis spoke on the possibility of future trade negotiations between the U.S. and India. Amb. Wisner stated that cooperation between the U.S., Europe, and India is vital to containing COVID-19 and bringing back their economies, especially given the shifts occurring in the global economy as a result of COVID-19. He also highlighted the importance of India presenting a competitive and attractive market for foreign investment, to take advantage of global interest in diversifying supply chains.

USISPF Briefing with Ambassador of India to the United States, Taranjit Sandhu

USISPF Briefing with Ambassador of India to the United States, Taranjit Sandhu

On April 9, Amb. Taranjit Sandhu, the Ambassador of India to the United States, joined USISPF members on a webinar to provide updates on India’s COVID-19 response and what the Embassy of India is doing to assist citizens and businesses at this difficult time.

In terms of India’s response to COVID-19, Ambassador Sandhu emphasized that India’s goal is to minimize the human cost of the pandemic and to contain the virus. He highlighted the $22.5 billion stimulus package the Government of India announced in March, which provides targeted aid to India’s most vulnerable citizens. He also noted the Government of India’s recent decisions to extend tax deadlines and the visas of foreign nationals unable to leave India due to the national lockdown. He spoke of the opportunities for the U.S. and India to collaborate on issues related to COVID-19 in areas ranging from technological transfers to vaccine development, pointing to the recent teleconference and Twitter exchanges between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump in which the two leaders reiterate their commitment to working together at this time. He also stated that there will be many opportunities for India and the U.S. to strengthen economic ties in the post-pandemic future, particularly in the energy sector.

Ambassador Sandhu also answered questions from USISPF members related to lockdown exemptions for essential goods and services, the Government of India’s recent decision to ease restrictions on pharmaceutical exports, and where to find updates on pandemic-related policy decisions. The Ambassador encouraged U.S. companies with a presence in India to reach out to the Embassy’s commerce wing for assistance on specific issues.

USISPF Briefing with Sanjay Chadha, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce & Industry

USISPF Briefing with Sanjay Chadha, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce & Industry

On April 16, Sanjay Chadha, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, joined USISPF members on a webinar to provide updates on the Ministry of Commerce & Industry’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In discussion with USISPF CEO & President Dr. Mukesh Aghi, Secretary Chadha provided insight into the Government of India’s next steps, and highlighted opportunities for the U.S. and India to deepen their economic partnership in the future. 

Secretary Chadha stated that the government of India has two priorities right now, to contain the coronavirus and to address the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. He spoke optimistically about the future of U.S.-India trade, highlighting U.S. companies as playing an important role in reopening India’s economy after the lockdown is lifted. He advised USISPF member companies on procedures for seeking assistance on logistic and operational issues as a result of the national lockdown and, noting that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines are interpreted on a state-by-state basis, reiterated the importance of communicating with local authorities. 

USISPF Briefing with Special Chief Secretary to Government, Industries & Commerce, Government of Andhra Pradesh

USISPF Briefing with Special Chief Secretary to Government, Industries & Commerce, Government of Andhra Pradesh

On April 17, officials from the government of Andhra Pradesh joined USISPF members on a webinar to provide updates on the state’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The speakers included Rajat Bhargava, Special Chief Secretary to Government, Industries & Commerce for the Government of Andhra Pradesh; Krishna Giri, Executive Vice Chairman of the AP Economic Development Board and Industrial Promotion Advisor for the Government of Andhra Pradesh; Sasidhar Kona, Principal Secretary of IT and Electronics; and J.V.N. Subramanyam, Director of the Industries & Commerce Department and CEO of the Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board.

Speaking on the state government’s response to COVID-19, Mr. Subramanyam highlighted that in Andhra Pradesh, the vast majority of administrative districts are classified as “green,” or unaffected by coronavirus, under the three-color classification system for identifying COVID-19 hotspots. He also highlighted the state’s ability to rapidly increase its testing capacity, and for companies in the state to respond to the increased demand for ventilators, testing kits, and other key equipment. He credits the effective use of technology for the success of the state’s response to the crisis, including the use of an E-Pass system for essential workers, GIS technology for mapping hotspots and buffer zones, and the state’s single desk portal to streamline the ease of doing business.

The speakers also highlighted opportunities for U.S. businesses in Andhra Pradesh. Secretary Bhargava stated that the government of Andhra Pradesh will extend “all possible help” to companies interested in coming to the state in the future, and highlighted the state’s work with Korean and Japanese companies to create specialized business parks as an opportunity also available to U.S. companies, as well as existing infrastructure for electronic manufacturing clusters and ‘medical tech zones.’ Secretary Kona also highlighted the state’s system of electronics and IT as both an opportunity for U.S. companies and a key factor in Andhra Pradesh’s coronavirus response strategy.

USISPF Briefing on Investment Opportunities in India’s Renewable Energy Sector

USISPF Briefing on Investment Opportunities in India’s Renewable Energy Sector

On April 15, USISPF IAC along with USAID hosted a webinar featuring Secretary Anand Kumar of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy; Sumant Sinha, founder and CEO of ReNew Power and USISPF board member; and Georges Antoun, Chief Commercial Officer of First Solar. In a discussion moderated by USISPF Senior Vice President, Nolty Theriot, they briefed USISPF members on the impact COVID-19 has had on the renewable energy sector in India, supportive actions taken by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), opportunities for renewable energy growth in India, and the role that US companies can play in this growth.

Speaking on the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s (MNRE) support for the renewable energy industry at this time, Secretary Kumar highlighted recent actions taken to ensure payments by distribution companies, categorize renewable energy as having “must run” status, and seek amendments to the Electricity Act of 2003 that would benefit the renewable energy industry. He also provided updates on MNRE efforts to facilitate domestic manufacturing of solar power and other renewable energy components, energy storage, and foreign investment in India’s renewable energy sector. Secretary Kumar expressed that MNRE’s vision is to make India the next manufacture hub for renewable energy, along with staying committed to climate change mitigation goals by promoting renewable energy. He also shared that MNRE is working on an Alternate Investment Fund with IREDA to help with the fiscal health of distribution companies, which will consequentially benefit the developers.

Sumant Sinha noted that while overall power demand has fallen as a result of India’s nationwide lockdown, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been proactive in its support for renewable energy companies. Georges Antoun also commended the efforts of MNRE during the time of COVID-19, and expressed that companies such as First Solar and their investors would be keen to enter the Indian market for manufacturing, given the right policy and commercial environment.