View: A single-window clearance for FDI

By Syed Zafar Islam

The Covid-19 pandemic has already brought more death and destruction than post-9/11 terrorism. The damage is still being counted.

Unlike terrorism, the coronavirus has no known enemy. But when the virus began to spread across the world, many have blamed China – not for being the point of origin of the pandemic, but for not being transparent and downright opaque in informing the world of its dangers when it first broke out in Wuhan. There is a crisis of confidence against Beijing’s secretive regime.

It is for China to clear its name. Confidence in many big Chinese companies is already shaky. Many industry leaders, earlier complying with Beijing, are turning their backs on the closed regime.

With China possibly paying heavily for the way it chose to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, India may have an opportunity to benefit from this situation. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated earlier this week, India may find itself poised to attract many companies that are planning to relocate their manufacturing units from China.

Covid-19 is still causing havoc with lives and livelihoods. But we can safely assume that once this is all behind us, we will discover that at the macro level, the GDP of most countries will have greatly shrunk, millions of companies will have gone out of business, and many others will be surviving on ventilators of financial packages. But in the middle of all this doom and gloom, there will be rebuilding and rehabilitation at furious pace. It will be a time for consolidation, mergers and acquisitions, and shifting of manufacturing bases to stay relevant.

Is India ready and willing to seize the moment? It had a chance to exploit the ‘tariff war’ between the US and China. Perhaps the timing was not right, since India was gearing up for general elections. According to the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), about 200 US companies were seeking to move their manufacturing units from China to India at the height of the trade war. It would be logical to assume that there will be many more companies willing to shift their manufacturing units out of China after the pandemic is over.

Perhaps this is the time when a single-window clearance in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) should be set up for the purpose. The more FDI that comes in the better. But we should be looking to woo companies that intend to start greenfield projects and dig deep in the Indian manufacturing hub. We have an opportunity to become a global manufacturing pivot. We should grasp it.

(The writer is national spokesperson of BJP and former managing director, Deutsche Bank, India)

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