US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday discussed issues ranging from US investment in West Bengal, including in the retail sector, US-India relations and regional affairs in an hour-long one-on-one meeting with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee here.
“Clinton reaffirmed to Banerjee the US’ desire to work with India and West Bengal to deepen and broaden the partnership. The Secretary of State expressed hope that Kolkata would become a hub in the new Silk Road Strategy to connect the countries of East, South and Central Asia,” the office of Public Affairs, US Consulate General, Kolkata, said in a statement.
Banerjee was elusive about what was discussed. Describing her meeting with Clinton as “constructive, creative and concrete”, Banerjee said issues like FDI in multi-brand retail or the Teesta water-sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh were not raised — though Clinton had earlier clearly said the issues were on her agenda.
In an interview to a TV channel, Clinton said she would lobby for reforms in India’s retail sector during her meeting with Banerjee.
“There were no talks about Teesta (water-sharing with Bangladesh). There were no talks on FDI in retail,” Banerjee told reporters after the meeting. In response to a query on reforms in retail, Banerjee added, “We are part of the world, and where we think we need foreign investment, we will allow it.”
During an interaction at a town-hall session organised by NDTV in Kolkata, Clinton had said, “I will certainly raise the US’ desire to try to open the market to multi-brand retail. The reason is that is there is an enormous amount of experience that can be brought to India on the supply chain management. We can develop relationships with small producers, so that the production can be made available in a larger quantity and give all kinds of assistance. I see a lot of benefits that may not be immediately perceived.” Clinton said, adding, “But I also understand politics and decisions can be difficult.”
Meanwhile, Press Trust of India has reported state finance minister Amit Mitra as saying, in a communication to US Consul General Dean Thompson, a copy of which was released to the press tonight, “I would like to state on behalf of the West Bengal government that the US Secretary of State did not mention FDI in retail when speaking to the chief minister. There was no further discussion on this specific subject at all. I urge you unequivocally and strongly that the mention of investment in retail sector be avoided in your press statement,” Mitra wrote.
Incidentally, the Frito Lay factory that Clinton was referring to is located in Bengal.
On the Teesta-water sharing issue, she told the television channel, “And on water, we have to do a better job of finding a win-win solution for everybody because it can lead to dislocation, destabilisation, refugee flows, famine, as we are seeing in places like North Africa. The US does not have any interest in how the water issues are resolved, but we can see from our projections what will be the hot issues in the future. If the water issue is put on the list to be dealt with, it may lead to all kinds of dislocation.”
Both the issues — FDI in multi-brand retail and Teesta water sharing agreement — were put off by the Centre at the behest of Banerjee.
Explaining her decision to visit Kolkata, she said, “Coming from China to Bangladesh seemed very appropriate to stop right here in Kolkata. The economic potential of east India is great. Also, its geo-political significance is being increasingly recognised. The US wants to be a partner with the entire country. This is my way of demonstrating our commitment to this part of the country.”
Though Clinton did not make any statement after the meeting with Banerjee, the latter while addressing a press conference said. “The US Secretary of State has promised American investment in the state in education, IT, health care and development of deep sea ports. “As a partner state, they will invest in West Bengal, as this was not taking place due to the political situation in the past. The US has promised to help us in overcoming our debt.”
“They will give full support for economic and business development. Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh and US Ambassador Nancy Powell would coordinate and monitor the progress,” Banerjee added.
According to Banerjee, Clinton welcomed the political change in the state after 34 years and expressed her happiness at the implementation of programmes taken up.
“We discussed several issues. She congratulated us. Clinton appreciated our passion for work as well as the implementation of the programmes.”