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Embassy Row: ‘Preaching to the choir’

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The U.S. ambassador to India is urging business executives to press politicians to lift trade barriers and encourage foreign investment to raise the country out of the grinding poverty that infects most of its 1.2 billion people.

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell notes that India will not prosper unless its economy grows. The country's gross domestic product plunged to 5.3 percent last year from a high of 9.3 percent in 2010.

"I know that you all know this very well," she told members of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata on Tuesday. "But I am preaching to the choir because it is important the choir now goes out and preaches to others."

Besides trade barriers, India is plagued with a grueling government bureaucracy.

The Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. cited India for have the worst bureaucracy in Asia.

Transparency International ranks India as one of the most corrupt countries, placing it 94th out of 176 nations scored in its most recent global survey.

Poverty, meanwhile, complicates the picture. More than 30 percent, or 400 million people, live below the international poverty line on less than $1.25 a day. Nearly 97 percent — a staggering 1.1 billion — earn less than $5 a day.

"You cannot defeat poverty without growth," Ms. Powell told the Kolkata business leaders. "You cannot have growth — certainly not enough growth to live hundreds of millions of people out of poverty — without an economy that is more open and that does more to encourage foreign investment."

The ambassador also is preparing for a visit later this week by Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, who will make arrangements for a visit next month by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

Mr. Kerry will travel to New Delhi for a meeting of the India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue, the primary forum for bilateral talks between the two nations.

KEYSTONE LAWSUITS

Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer is bracing for lawsuits after President Obama makes his decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

If he approves the 2,000-mile energy project from Alberta, Canada, to Texas, environmentalists are bound to sue.

If the president rejects the pipeline, the oil industry might head to the courts.

"We want it to be very, very proper in terms of U.S. law because I would be naive to believe that, at the end of the day, if the president signs it, there won't be lawsuits," he told the Canadian Sun newspaper in an interview earlier this month. "There's 45,000 lawyers in Washington alone. This is a very litigious community."

The State Department has concluded that the project will have little negative impact on the environment.

The governors of the six U.S. states through which the pipeline will run support the project. Even some labor unions are backing the project because it will create an estimated 42,000 jobs.

Mr. Obama has delayed the project because of opposition from environmentalists. The pipeline company, TransCanada Corp., has been waiting more than 1,700 days for approval.

Canada is America's largest source of foreign oil. It exported 2.4 million barrels of oil a day to the United States last year — nearly a third of the 8.5 million barrels Americans use daily

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com or @EmbassyRow.

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