By Phil Hazlewood ,AFp
MUMBAI — Hundreds of international policymakers and industry leaders have converged on Mumbai, hoping fast-growing India can provide a rare ray of light amid the faltering global economy. More than 800 participants from 40 countries are due to take part from Sunday in the annual two-day India Economic Summit, which is making its debut in Mumbai having previously been held in the capital New Delhi. Delegates will focus on how to combine economic growth with essential social development. Sushant Rao, a senior director with organizers the World Economic Forum, said there were “high expectations” of India given the gloom enveloping debt-laden Europe in particular. “India is not isolated from the crises that are happening in Europe,” Rao warned at a news conference in Mumbai, the country’s financial hub, last week. “There’s a global economic contraction.” But as solutions are sought, he said there was a need to look at “exactly what’s the role of a country like India, which is assumed to be one of the next superpowers … (to) facilitate leadership for these global challenges.” Prithviraj Chavan, the chief minister of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, also said the event’s timing was “opportune, just after the G-20 Cannes summit, where India has been called upon to play a major role.” India emerged relatively unscathed from the last global economic downturn in 2008, largely because most of its demand for goods and services was met domestically. The tightly regulated banking and financial sectors were also less exposed to overseas troubles. Chavan, from the ruling Congress party, said New Delhi was confident that India could withstand further shocks and instead “get the due attention of the investing community of global business leaders.” In Maharashtra alone, agreements will be signed with 32 major companies by yearend for projects worth at least five billion rupees (US$100 million), the chief minister said. But not everyone is banking on India.
Business leaders have said wider investor confidence about the opportunities in the South Asian giant has been hit, largely due to inflation, which is hovering near 10 percent. Recent weak data has also undercut hopes that emerging markets such as India can power global growth as Europe and the United States struggle. On Friday, official statistics showed that industrial output growth in India skidded to a two-year low in September of 1.9 percent. Other recent data showed that new-car sales — a key economic indicator — slumped 24 percent in October, their sharpest fall in more than a decade, while October’s annual export growth was the slowest in two years. India’s central bank, which has hiked interest rates 13 times since March 2010 to curb inflation, has revised its forecast for economic growth down to 7.6 percent this year from an earlier 8 percent. India’s economic boom since the early 1990s has been hailed as a success story, with countries from the United States to Australia queuing up to do business. But critics have said that although India has got richer, spreading wealth to the many, not just the few, remains a problem, with lingering concerns about poverty, living standards and access to health care and education. Poor governance, wide-scale corruption, inadequate infrastructure and the environmental impact of greater consumption are also key issues.