Union Budget of India: Bold, innovative and stellar budget, says Mukesh Aghi, CEO of USISPF

Ritu Jha-

In the first part of the series on the Indian budget for 2023-24, indica spoke to Mukesh Aghi, the president and CEO of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum.

In his current role, Dr Aghi works extensively with business and government leaders in the US and India to promote trade, and strengthen ties between the two countries. He has over 20 years of success in powering business expansion globally, boosting revenue, and increasing margins for companies in a variety of sectors.

Previously, Dr Aghi served as Chief Executive and Member of the Board at L&T Infotech where he expanded the business on a global level by establishing the global services function, building the global sales leadership team, and preparing for an IPO.

During his time at Steria, Inc. (India), Dr Aghi served as Chairman and CEO of the Asia-Pacific region and oversaw a major merger to transform the company into a $2B+ business.

Additionally, Dr Aghi was the founding CEO of Universitas 21 Global, the world’s largest consortium of research-led universities and global leader in providing post-graduate online education. Earlier in his career, Dr. Aghi served as President of IBM India for IBM Corporation, and spent time working with Ariba, Inc. and JD Edwards & Co.

Most recently, Dr Aghi was the recipient of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award. In his free time, Dr. Aghi is a marathon and mountaineering enthusiast. He has competed in 27 international marathons and climbed some of the highest peaks in North America and Europe.

His views on the Indian budget…

What was your first impression of the Union Budget 2023? Has the budget done enough to increase trade among India’s partners, especially regarding customs duties and export requirements? Will you call it a robust budget to attract Foreign direct investment (FDI)?
I congratulate Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on delivering a budget that allows the government to continue supporting development while keeping an eye on fiscal deficit. This is a bold, innovative, and stellar budget. It takes India to a stronger growth trajectory in the last nine years.
The first principle is to do no harm and the government has adhered to this. I call this a measured and pragmatic budget. The deficit targeted means there will be more capital for private investments which bring interest rates down. This budget focuses on youth, and women and hence will create jobs and have a tremendous impact on the India growth story. Compliances have been reduced and legal provisions eased and hence this will improve the ease of doing business.

Do you think the Indian economy, which is projected to grow at more than 6% as per the budget estimates, will actually grow at that rate given the impending US recession and massive job losses in the tech sector?
The Union Budget 2023-24 is presented at a time when major economies around the world are experiencing recessionary and inflationary trends. However, the Indian growth story is expected to buck the trend on the back of resilient domestic growth and post-pandemic recovery and investments.
India has moved from the tenth-largest economy to the fifth-largest economy over the last nine years. India is due to growing at 7% during an era of economic slowdown and supply chain crisis thanks to policies aimed at improving the ease of doing business environment, attracting manufacturing, and improving supply chains.

What should the Indian government do to follow up on the budget as regards US-India trade? How should the commerce and trade ministry help bilateral trade?
The US understands India’s economic potential as Asia’s third-largest economy and the 5th largest in the world. India’s robust economy and thriving workforce present lucrative market opportunities for American enterprises. U.S. multinationals are allured by the size of the market, a young demographic largely under the age of 35, tech prowess, and a vast English-speaking demographic, which gives India a distinct advantage.
India has emerged as an economic behemoth, a South Asian tiger and this has helped forge a close economic partnership between our two countries. Of course, one of the priorities for this government has been to improve the ease of doing business environment in the country, and I see that improving.
The US-India relationship has been dubbed as the most important strategic partner of the 21st century. I have witnessed how the relationship has moved beyond symbolic platitudes between the world’s oldest and largest democracy to robust engagements across trade, defense, climate, and technology.
Despite economic blips during the pandemic, the bilateral trade between India and the U.S. has crossed the $100 billion mark in 2021. According to official figures, the overall US-India bilateral trade in goods and services reached a record $157 billion, a drastic increase from the 2020 trade figures.
Furthermore, economic synergy across climate, technology, resilient supply chains, and vaccine delivery is evinced through the Quad, I2U2 and now collaboration on IPEF and a restart of TPF means things are on the right track.
Supply Chain focus is a major issue since the pandemic has evinced that companies need a China plus one strategy. The fact that Apple is looking to make the iPhone 14 in India shows that the government of India’s focus on manufacturing in form of PLI schemes and Make in India strategy is succeeding in wooing top American tech companies.
New schemes like PM Gati Shakti, and the National Logistics Pipeline will help solidify infrastructure and logistics constraints and attract more overseas investors.

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