Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2019
Opening Doors to India and Beyond
IN ITS 9TH EDITION OF THE VIBRANT GUJARAT GLOBAL SUMMIT SEEMS TO HAVE ACQUIRED ENOUGH MUSCLE TO MOVE FROM BEING A GUJARAT-FOCUSED EVENT TO ONE OF THE LARGEST BUSINESS GATHERINGS IN ASIA.
The 9th edition of India’s foremost and high profile business meet will see thousands of businesspersons and official delegations from over 70 nations around the globe. The event has progressed from its rather modest start in 2003, when it was mainly dominated by Indian businesses, especially those active in Gujarat.
Sixteen years on, the meeting has started to live up to its name as a gathering of global businesses, where they can have discussions and negotiations, not just about Gujarat, but practically any part of India or indeed the world.
In a nod to the change in its character, the host, the government of Gujarat, has decided to dedicate an entire day to Africa, with the intention of boosting not just trade ties between India and Africa, but also to create an atmosphere for promoting investments in Indian and foreign businesses in Africa.
“The Africa Day event is a new feature. It will provide a platform for global leaders to discuss opportunities for strategic partnerships, trade and investment between India and Africa,” says J N Singh, chief secretary or the top bureaucrat of Gujarat government.
The move to focus on Africa also reflects the priorities of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the initiator of Vibrant Gujarat Summit as the chief minister of Gujarat. Ever since he took over as the Prime Minister in 2014, Modi has intensified the focus of the Indian government in strengthening relationships with African nations, not only due to the opportunities for Indian businesses in that continent, but also as a strategic step to counter the rising Chinese presence and influence in Africa. Modi has made several trips to Africa and has also hosted India-Africa summits, besides organising Africa-focused sessions in multilateral fora like the UN Climate Change meetings.
part due to the presence of a very large and prosperous Gujarati diaspora in several African countries, ranging from East African nations like Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to the Central and West African countries.
By focusing on Africa, Gujarat also hopes to revive and reinforce the relationship with this large community, running into several millions.
World heads to Gujarat
Over the 16 years, the event has developed a truly international appeal, with a rising number of partner countries and a very large footprint of delegates from around the world. For the 2019 edition, there are a total of 15 partner countries, three more than the previous edition in 2017. In addition, the meeting will be attended by the heads of Government of five countries and over 20,000 delegates.
The heads of states include Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Lokke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babis and Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat.
‘‘Apart from them, around 115 delegations from other countries will be here for the summit. Over 20,000 delegates and 26,380 companies have already registered for the three-day event and the number may increase,’’ says Singh.
However, disconcertingly for Gujarat and for Modi, the official delegations from two key countries, the United States of America (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), that have been regulars at Vibrant Gujarat would be skipping this year due to various trade-related disputes with India.
Singh, however, remains undeterred by the absence of officials from these two countries, saying that the business community from both the nations would be present in strength. ‘‘Though the US is not there, two of its trade organisations — US-India Strategic Partnership Forum and US-India Business Council — are coming,’’ he says.
The event will of course have several other headline grabbers including the CEOs of leading Indian and global companies. Besides Africa, another new element in this year’s meeting is a gathering of heads of global sovereign wealth funds and institutional investors, who will have a round table with Modi.
While the focus sectors this year remain more or less the same as the previous editions, the state government is also proactively pushing trade and commerce as well as entrepreneurship and innovation. With this objectives in mind, the government has also held a parallel meet to promote greater collaboration between the chambers of commerce from around the world.
Keeping in mind the dire state of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), it is also organising dedicated sessions to boost cooperation between MSMEs from around the world as well as The Gujarat government has managed to make the landowners, mainly farmers, participate in the industrialisation process by acting as a mediator to help the businesses in acquisition of land. Also, often the state government proactively acquires land with the idea of creating a sector-specific industrial cluster, thus making ready land available to investors, allowing them to focus on the essentials of their business and cutting dramatically the gestation period of any project, often saving precious months or years for an investor.
These and numerous other measures have shown their impact on business confidence in Gujarat and in the first edition itself where about 80 Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) were signed between the Gujarat government and the business community, with the latter promising a total investment of INR 660 billion (USD 10 billion) in the state.
The world is a stage
It was from its third edition, in 2007, that the event really began taking shape as a premiere business event, with the presence of Indian business tycoons such as Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, as well as Mukesh Ambani of the Reliance Industries’ chairman. In his address at the summit, Tata famously declared “It is stupid if you are not in Gujarat.” Armed with this certification from one of the most respected business leaders in India and indeed the world, Modi proceeded to make Vibrant Gujarat an even larger event. Even at this time, several overseas delegations mainly from Japan and South Korea had joined in as partner countries of the event.
Over the years, from 2009 to 2017, Vibrant Gujarat moved consistently higher up in the ladder of important business meetings in India and overtime at least in Asia if not around the world. From business MoUs of about INR 12,350 billion in 2009 (then USD 30 billion) in 2009, the event had grown to over INR 40,000 billion in 2013 (then USD 667 billion).
By then, several western nations, notably the US, Canada and the UK, which had been publicly’ eschewing Narendra Modi due to the controversy surrounding the infamous Godhra riots of 2002, had no compunctions in becoming partner nations at Vibrant Gujarat.
But the real change in the nature and importance of Vibrant Gujarat happened in 2015, the first time that Modi participated in the event as Indian Prime Minister. Soon after his victory in the Lok Sabha elections in May 2014, most European nations lined up to meet the Prime Minister and curry favour with him. Hence, the 2015 edition of Vibrant Gujarat saw eight countries as partner countries and over 25,000 delegates from over 110 nations across the world.
In 2017, a heady mix of partner countries as well as global chief executive officers of large multinationals gathered in Gandhinagar for a session hosted by Modi. These included names such as John Chambers of Cisco Systems, Pierre Hermelin of Cap Gemini, President of Boeing Bertrand Marc Allen and Jean Bernard Levy of EDF, the French utility company.
The government wants to make Gujarat economically and socially the most developed state in the country and leveraging its strong manufacturing base to make it the connection between global manufacturers and rest of India.
Vibrant Gujarat also plans to make Gujarat the hub of innovation and ideation in the country and also to position the event as a platform for global business networking. The focus areas for Gujarat include food processing, smart city developments, financial services industries, aerospace and aviation manufacturing industry as well as pharmaceutical industry and chemicals and petrochemicals.
Presenting Indian reforms to the world
As a Prime Minister, Vibrant Gujarat also offers a unique opportunity to Modi and his government to present to the global business and political leaders the various economic reforms that he has initiated 2014. This edition is the first time that India’s indirect tax code has been unified in the form of Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is expected to contribute in a big way to make India really a unified marketplace.
Besides GST, one of the biggest achievements that the government has had in the last four years include the sharp rise in India’s position on the global ease of doing business ranking prepared by the World Bank, where India jumped 53 spots to reach 77 on the global list.
Other major focus areas include the push for smart city development, the focus on creating large urban and rural infrastructure, development of renewable energy sources and of course the digitisation of the financial services industries.
The Indian government would also like to project moves that it has made to curb corruption, another big factor that has deterred the foreign businesses from doing business with India. The country has to clearly rise rapidly in the global index of ease of doing business.
As this is the last such gathering before the next general elections, it would provide Modi and the government with an idea platform to present their report card of activities and achievements over the last four years and take the pole position amidst the global business community as the principal protagonist of economic reforms in India. That’s a position that could also yield benefits in the nationwide electoral beauty show slated for April 2019.