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Market of opportunities and challenges

Barack Obama’s visit to India in November will have a major impact on issues of commerce and investment between that country and the United States, said Ron Somers, president of the U.S.-India Business Council.

Somers spoke on Thursday at a daylong symposium on emerging markets at Northeastern’s John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute. Other presentations examined opportunities for U.S. firms in China and Brazil; doing business in Russia; and selling in emerging markets.

Ravi Ramamurti, distinguished professor of international business and director of Northeastern’s Center for Emerging Markets, organized the program. The center is a clearinghouse for the latest ideas on the business opportunities springing up in developing international markets around the world.

In his remarks, Ramamurti said that 60 percent of the growth in the world’s overall gross domestic product would take place in emerging markets, which he described as centers of production and innovation.

One of those markets with the greatest potential is India, and Somers said Obama’s visit is seen by officials there as an opportunity to gain the attention of an American administration that has been pre-occupied with Afghanistan and Iraq.

India is eager “to be distinguished as a true strategic partner” with the United States, said Somers.

As part of his visit, Obama is expected to seek deeper security relationships with India. The country is “a very soft target” for terrorists, said Somers, but it is ramping up security by spending more on defense. He pointed to the country’s $11 billion investment in its air force over the next five years.

Beyond the security issue, Somers noted important commonalities between the two nations that should help foster stronger commercial ties: a determination to stop terrorism and drug smuggling, education systems that produce more physicians, engineers and PhDs than any other nation in the world, and a vibrant youth market.

Fifty-four percent of India’s 1.2 billion people are younger than 25, noted Somers. “They’re a youthful, hopeful nation that, like us, emphasizes open market principals,” he said, adding that he hopes Obama will “feel the warmth and generosity of the Indian people” when he becomes only the sixth U.S. president to visit the country.

But there are numerous challenges facing the fastest growing economy in the world, Somers said. Six hundred million people in India live on less than $2 a day, 30,000 farmers commit suicide each year and half of the 190 million people in Uttar Pradesh, a state in the northern part of India, are illiterate.

The ability to produce mass quantities of clean energy using a 200-year supply of coal buried under the ground is a top priority, said Somers, and an obvious point of partnership with the Americans.

“How can the United States cooperate with India to develop the best technology to burn the coal cleanly?” he said.

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