India is open for business. It is ready to welcome foreign investors and this is not just talk. What has changed? Plenty. It is aggressively putting money into infrastructure building, eliminating corruption, and ending retrospective taxation. It wants to build 100 "smart cities", step up economic growth, but still reach out to the under-privileged via new financial assistance programmes.
If all this sounds ambitious, it's because of the man who's in charge ? Mr Arun Jaitley, a lawyer-turned-politician who holds not one but three ministerial portfolios in India. The 62-year-old is India's Minister of Finance, Minister for Corporate Affairs, and Minister for Information and Broadcasting.
It's a bold vision in a global economy that's chugging in fits and spurts. But the gloom around India, at least, seems to be lifting. It is now the fastest-growing economy among the BRIC countries, which includes Brazil, Russia, and China. Last year, its economy grew by 7.3 percent. India has plans to hit between 8 and 10 percent growth next year.
Said Jaitley, who was in Singapore recently as a speaker at the Singapore Summit, a gathering of 400 business leaders, investors, and government officials in Asia: "We believe, notwithstanding the global slowdown, we do stand out as a bright spot."
Fewer barriers to entry
The Delhi-born politician's comments came during a 45-minute dialogue at the Summit's opening, moderated by international journalist and broadcaster, Mr Nik Gowing. In the wide-ranging discussion held at Singapore's iconic Marina Bay Sands, Jaitley's pitch was unwavering: We can give you better returns on your investment. Invest in India.
A tempting offer, but investors know India comes with its own set of challenges. Despite recent reforms focused on making it easier to do business, the country still owns a reputation for having lots of red tape. Not only that, taxation is another issue, which Jaitley himself acknowledged: "[We have] inherited a large number of taxation issues. Many of them are being sorted out, many of them remain."
Responding to industries who have been calling for a taxation rate cut, he said: "The India corporate tax will come down to 25 percent and we stand by our word. The process will begin."
"One by one, we are putting them to sleep," he added. "Some by legislation. Only about two or three issues are left... I am reasonably sure they will be resolved."
Foreign investment in rail projects
India is doing its part as well, Jaitley added. He said the government has put in more money towards infrastructure-building this year ? as much as 39 percent more compared to last year from cost savings derived from falling oil prices.
A new beginning is also on the horizon, as India opens its rail projects to foreign investment for the first time. This is part of India's push to improve the country's infrastructure to lure more businesses.
The minister said foreign investors have been showing interest in rail-related projects. "Railways have a large capacity for infrastructure [investment]. We are now open for foreign direct investment."
Performing on the world stage
Toward the end of the dialogue, Mr Jaitley grew thoughtful when asked what role India would play in the world.
"India is in the mainstream of countries trying to build for geopolitical sustainability. We believe that from our history, we can play a positive role. We learn from these lessons because of our own strategies and innovation."
Such consideration, perhaps is a reflection of how India wants the world's investors to see it: a serious broker of trade and investment who understands that geopolitical stability in the region is a necessary foundation needed to build economic success.
Said Jaitley: "We haven't enjoyed the best neighbourhood ourselves. No one is more aware of the cost of regional issues than we are."
In other words, India is ready to take steps to ensure it remains a safe place for investors to grow their businesses in the region.
Written by Jean Chua. Edited by Yen Feng and Goh Wei Ting. This article was first published on Singapore Business News.