Speeches & Articles
Remarks of CONSUL GENERAL HENRY V. JARDINE at an interactive session at the Indian Chamber of Commerce
May 21, 2008
Mr. Sanjay Budhia, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. As my tenure here in Kolkata comes to a close, I would like to thank the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) for giving me this opportunity to look back on my time here and to share with you some of my thoughts and experiences of living in Kolkata and working towards fostering closer ties between the United States and Eastern India. I do feel a range of strong emotions being here today. One, is complete shock that almost three years has gone by so quickly. It does seem that it was only recently that I arrived and first spoke here at the Chambers about the Indo-U.S. relationship and its rapid development. Second, is a great sense of sadness at leaving after having met so many very warm and welcoming people, whom I will miss very much. Finally, I feel a sense of accomplishment in having achieved a number of key milestones in expanding our Consulate offices and in increasing our outreach and programs.
The comedian Woody Allen remarked that “80 percent of success is just showing up.” I do feel very fortunate having “shown up” in Kolkata and this region during a time when the US-India relationship has been expanding and has become of such critical importance to our two countries. In addition, in Eastern India there has been a distinct transformation of the business and commercial climate with greater local government effort in promoting investment and economic development. But I think what has been most important in making my experience here so rewarding has been the opportunity to meet and work with a wonderful range of people and organizations like the Indian Chamber of Commerce and its members -- people with great intelligence, sensitivity and openness. With your help and support, the Consulate and I have been able to do so much in many ways, whether in hosting high-level visitors such as Ambassador Richard Boyce, the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, or coordinating programs on key issues such as the environment, agriculture, HIV/AIDS and in many other areas of great importance. I would like to thank Mr. Budhia, Dr. Rajeev Singh and your excellent team for partnering with us in our efforts to promote Indo-US ties and for the ICC members for the organization’s outstanding support these past three years.
I think it is useful to look back on when I arrived in Kolkata for my assignment in August 2005 to see how far we have come. It does not seem that long ago but in fact there have been some significant changes, reflecting just how rapidly the Indo-U.S. relationship has been transformed. For instance, I recall when I arrived we spoke of a bilateral trade relationship valued at approximately $20 billion and now in the coming year we are projecting possibly $60 billion in bilateral trade. Demand for U.S. visas also saw great growth reaching now over 700,000 cases a year with projections to soon be around one million a year. We have expanded our strategic relationship with a range of large military exercises such as in the joint air force training in 2005 at the Kalaikunda air base and the Malabar exercise in September 2007, with the USS Kitty Hawk and USS Nimitz near the Andaman Islands.
To respond to the growth of our relationship with India, the U.S. Mission and the Consulate has increased its staffing and resources as well. When I arrived at Post we had only five American officers. As I leave, we will have 12 officers with the arrival of two more officers this summer.
To promote our commercial relationship, we added a new Foreign Commercial Service Officer, Aileen Nandi, and in 2006 she inaugurated a renovated and expanded Commercial office in the American Center during the visit of Assistant Secretary Boucher.
To better understand the complex economic, social and political issues in the region, we also welcomed in 2006 a new Political and Economic Officer in the Consulate, Rakesh Surampudi.
In addition, as a reflection of the growing presence and interest of US businesses in eastern India, the Kolkata chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce was launched with our support in March 2006. The Chamber has expanded its membership from just 9 starting members to more than 30 corporate members now.
As always, a critical part of the work that we do also involves consular and visa services. We recognized to help the ICC members and to help foster the person-to-person relationships that are so important in business that we must be able to provide timely and quality visa services. We have focused on this by expanding our operations to meet the ever increasing demand for visas. In 2006 we added a new Vice Consul to help manage our workload. In the past year, we have increased by one-third our locally employed staff that helps process visa applications. When an additional American officer arrives later this year, the size of the American officer staff in the Visa section will have doubled in just the last eighteen months. We have already seen real results from these efforts. A prospective traveler to the United States from Eastern India can usually obtain a visa interview appointment at the Consulate within just forty-eight hours and typically, their approved visa is ready for pick-up the next business day.
As part of the Consulate’s ongoing efforts to expand and improve consular services here in Eastern India, a new American Citizens’ Services facility was inaugurated in April this year. This reflects the increased demand for these types of services. Many Indian citizens who had gone to the U.S. to work or study are now returning to take advantage of the growing opportunities here in Eastern India. In FY 2007, over 55% of the U.S. passports issued in Kolkata were issued to minor children born in the United States to the Indian nationals who were living temporarily in the United States. The number of U.S. citizens visiting Eastern India has grown an estimated 20% over the last two years.
In addition, we constructed a comfortable exterior waiting area and disability access to our visa offices. This coming summer we will be renovating our visa waiting area and expanding the number of interview windows, so that we can adjudicate more cases and speed our processing time.
These last couple of years has truly been eventful ones. We saw a string of high-level visits from Washington in 2007 and we expect that trend to continue. Last year, among the important visits we hosted, the most notable ones were of the US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and that of the US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. Our Foreign Commercial Services section was especially busy facilitating a number of inbound and outbound trade missions focusing on critical sectors like coal mining, clean energy, infrastructure, transport, metals and health services. Besides the trade missions, several new American firms have visited Kolkata and worked with Commercial Service to identify agents, distributors, joint venture partners or franchises.
The US Consulate and the American Center in Kolkata have also successfully partnered with the Indian Chamber of Commerce on a number of initiatives and events, particularly in the areas of energy and environment. We have worked together to organize interactive sessions with visitors like Mark Ginsberg from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Our visiting Science Fellow Janet Hashimoto from the US Environmental Protection Agency participated in the Environment Partnership Summit that you organized in February this year. And the Chamber is our valued partner in organizing the annual ‘Green Biz Quiz’. Earlier this year, in April, we were also fortunate to work with you on an interactive session with another visitor from Washington, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dr. Evan A. Feigenbaum. In other programs, we supported the ICC’s efforts to promote corporate policies on HIV/AIDS and in working with local unions to highlight the need of such policies for their members. These are only a few of the examples of our long and successful co-operation to further strengthen Indo-US ties in the region and I hope that this mutually beneficial relationship will continue to grow over the coming years.
While focusing on what has been accomplished, I do recognize that much more can and needs to be done to promote the Indo-U.S. relationship and I expect the ICC to remain an important partner in this effort.
U.S. investment so far has been focused in petrochemicals, information technology, and financial services, as well as some engineering and infrastructure. But with the recent agreements signed between India and the United States, other areas offer opportunities, such as agro-business, science and technology, and if the Government of India allows foreign investment -- the retail sector. Eastern India and West Bengal in particular need investment in infrastructure: large multi-lane highways, overpasses, bridges, additional ports, and airports – the whole range of networks that a modern State needs. I believe that the West Bengal Government and other state governments recognize this and have been seeking foreign investment in these areas. However, the projects need to be large and visionary in scope to create the potential for investment and development. The addition of a few two-lane roads is not sufficient to create real economic growth – the States needs to “Think Big” for big growth.
Another area that needs to be addressed on an urgent basis is environmental pollution in the region. As many of the speakers at the recently held Environment Partnership Summit pointed out, the air quality in Kolkata city is among the worst in the country. We all know vehicular pollution is a prime contributor to this situation, yet despite well crafted environmental laws and regulations being in place, they just aren’t implemented in an efficient manner. I would like to request your Chamber, with it active and professionally managed Environment Management Center to do your best to impress upon and lobby with the authorities to tackle this problem and create the right environment for not only businesses to thrive but also make the city a more healthy place to live.
So while 80 percent of the success that I, the Consulate and ICC have been able to achieve these last three years could be simply the result of “just showing up” as Woody Allen would say at the right time and place during this critical moment in the Indo-U.S. relationship, I believe that the important remaining 20 percent was due to the hard work and great support of people and organizations like the Indian Chamber of Commerce. Real success always requires that extra effort at the end and often that last bit constitutes the hardest part, having to dig down deep and put in the effort needed to achieve a goal. In a marathon the last mile is the hardest in reaching the finish line.
In the end, in looking at what we all have all been able to do these past three years, I feel great appreciation for the good fortune that I have had in being here at the right time, right place and among the right people, all of which have made my three years here a complete, 100 percent success.
Thank you all again for your great support and encouragement and I know that the ICC will continue to be a very important partner for the next Consul General and for the United States Government.