Interaction at Writer's Building

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Kolkata, India
June 17, 2011

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Good afternoon. My name is Robert Blake. I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. I’m very pleased today to be in Kolkata.

I just had the honor of meeting with Her Excellency the Chief Minister, and I had the opportunity to congratulate her on her democratic election. I stressed that the United States would like to work with her and with her administration to promote more American trade and investment, to promote more educational ties between the United States and West Bengal. We also talked about the law and order situation here in West Bengal and the potential for West Bengal to benefit from the improving ties between India and Bangladesh.

So it was a very wide-ranging and very constructive discussion.

I also earlier had the opportunity to meet with a group of your business people in an interactive session that was hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry. Later today I hope to visit a local shelter where they protect women and young girls who have been involved in trafficking in persons. This is an area that is always of great interest for the United States around the world. I’m very pleased that this is an area that the Indian government has given a much greater priority to and where we’re working very closely together. So I wanted to again reaffirm our interest in continuing that very important work.

With that I’ll be glad to take a few questions.

QUESTION: My point is that you had suggested the law and order situation, so what makes you concerned that you have gone to that extent to discuss about the law and order situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Obviously in any part of India you want to make sure that in terms of our investors that there’s a good law and order situation, that there’s a hospitable climate for investment, and the Chief Minister assured me that progress is being made on both those fronts. And that there will not only be attention given to the security situation but also to the underlying economic conditions that give rise to Naxalism in West Bengal and other parts of India.

QUESTION: Any investment? Any possible US investments planned in West Bengal?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We discussed the fact that later this year the U.S.-India Business Council, which is affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to organize a trade and investment mission here to West Bengal. I don’t have any specific dates for you at this time, but they will certainly announce that in due course. But they are an organization with whom we in the State Department work very closely and they’re a highly professional organization and I’m sure they’ll do an outstanding job in bringing top CEOs. And as I said, in the interactive session with CII it’s also very important that the business people of West Bengal identify appropriate opportunities for American business here so that their trip will be fruitful.

QUESTION: I have one more question. Which are the sectors this government will improve [inaudible]. In the morning you mentioned infrastructure – to attract U.S. investment.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think that’s really for West Bengal, obviously, to make a decision about which sectors they think should be priority sectors, but I think there are a number of opportunities here. I would point to things like the mining sector, the energy sector, potential for tourism, obviously agriculture is extremely important, and then the other one is education. We talked about that today where American universities are interested in doing more here in India. You have a very young population and many of them already go to the United States to study, now more than 100,000. But I think American universities would like to set up partnerships here. There’s a very important bill that is pending in the Lok Sabha in Delhi, that would perhaps open up the higher education sector to greater investment by foreign universities, so all of our universities are very interested in the outcome of that legislation.

QUESTION: Have you invited her to visit the U.S.?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes, certainly. I think she’s got a few important things to do here first, but we said that we would welcome a visit by her at any time, and of course a visit by the business community as well.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] any political discussions apart from all this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Not really. I don’t know what you mean by political discussions. We didn’t discuss the local situation.

Thank you all very much and I appreciate your time.

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