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India's planned $1T in infrastructure work an opportunity for N.J. companies

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Though U.S. trade activity with India has steadily grown over the past six years as the country's customs duties have gradually fallen, India's goal of investing $1 trillion in infrastructure development through 2017 presents a wealth of new opportunities for New Jersey companies looking to expand their business abroad, trade experts said at an international markets seminar today at Farleigh Dickenson University's Teaneck campus.

Art Stern, the India desk officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, said the country's 12th five-year plan to invest $1 trillion between 2012 and 2016 covers the full range of infrastructure development — from building roads, to constructing airports, to strengthening the power grid.

India also plans to harden its manufacturing sector by investing in the creation of 100 million new jobs by 2022, and the country has mapped out 12 manufacturing zones to set the foundation for that growth, according to Devyani Khobragade, deputy consul general for the Consulate General of India in New York.

But Khobragade noted India's government expects to ultimately source half that funding from the private sector, and a large chunk of that $500 billion is anticipated to stem from direct foreign investment.

Eddy S. Mayen

To ensure New Jersey captures a share of those investment opportunities, Eddy S. Mayen, director of the state Business Action Center's international business development and protocol arm, said his team holds routine meetings with the consulate general to learn how companies in the state match up to the services and products needed overseas.

"If someone says 'medical,' we perk up, because that's one of our strongest industries," Mayen said. "Once we identify a country's needs, we're actively recruiting companies here in New Jersey in those targeted industries and then we push to connect them to the opportunities."

But Stern said U.S. companies need to stay alert while forming trade relations with India, as "corruption is a real issue at all levels of government," and in a ranking of ease of doing business, the World Bank recently ranked India 132 of 183 countries as a result of its backlogged court system and excessive government interference.

"India has several levels of government and several permissions and permits, which lends itself to corruption," Stern said. "It's something in the last couple years that has gotten attention of the Indian government and the Indian people, so it's not something that's just going under the rug — it's something that will likely improve."

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