Join hands in SEZs: Indian businesses tell Japanese firms

At a conference in Tokyo last week, Japan-India Business Co-operation Committee Standing Committee Chairman Yoshihiro Watanabe expressed concerns that land acquisition in India can take long time for doing businesses there.

To remove apprehensions in Japanes minds, L B Singhal, Director General of the Export Promotion Council of EOUs and SEZs, said land has been acquired for 568 SEZs that have been approved in India.

Of this, 315 zones have been notified also, Singhal said.

"Notified means that after acquisition of land, the developers have completed all formalities required to make these SEZs operational and they are on the verge of starting their operations," he said, adding that 91 SEZs have started operations.

The business delegation, led by Assocham President Sajjan Jindal, included representatives from real estate firm Raheja Developers, SEZ developers Sri City, Maharashtra Airport Development Company, Assam Company, Oil Field Warehouse and Services, AEZ Infratech, SKIL Infrastructure, JVL Agro Industries and Bengal Integrated Auto Industrial Park.

They left Delhi last Sunday to meet Japanese officials and company representatives in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka.

Representatives of Japanese companies like Toshiba Corp, Mitsubishi Corp, Mitsui and Co, Mizuho Corporate Bank, Nippon Signal Co, Shimizu Corp, Sumitomo Corp, besides small and medium enterprises interacted with the Indian delegation.

Various participants asked whether SEZs are specifically meant for large companies and multi-nationals, or small and medium firms can also buy units there.

Singhal explained that SEZs are beneficial for SMEs as well since they get all hassle free environment in these zones. In fact, for IT units, SEZs provide plug and play facilities so that these firms could start their operations immediately, he added.

In Osaka, Isao Yokoi, Advisor of Overseas Vocational Training Association, said out of India, Bangladesh and Australia, he found business environment most difficult in India.

"My experience in these countries tell me this," Yokoi, who had stayed in India for 17 years, said.

The delegation also interacted with officials and company representatives in Yokohama to familiarise them with benefits of SEZs.

Navin Raheja, Managing Director of Raheja Developers and Co-Chairman SEZ Council of Assocham, said SEZs provide hassle free environment.

"I want to clear the negative mindset. It is so easy and simple to operate and work or join hands with Indian companies, if you come to India and start operating in SEZs," he said.

"It is a special provision of the Government of India which has made functioning in SEZs so easy that anybody from all over the world can come there without any hassles," he told Japanese firms.

He also removed the misconception that SEZs are only export zones. So long as those in SEZs are net foreign exchange earners over a period of five years, they can cater to domestic demands, provided they pay duties.

"Come and start your work, concentrate on development of your products as fast as possible with best qualities. We have a large market, evolving market, there is so much of consumption demand, that you would not like to miss," Raheja said.

In Tokyo, Japanese senator Tamuri Kotaro said, "We are very keen to expand commercial ties with India."

He specifically focused on infrastructure, where Indian firms could benefit substantially from Japanese technology and investment.

Facing slackening demand in the home country, Japanese firms can find investment in SEZs quite lucrative as they can cater to growing Indian markets, analysts said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted Japanese economy to shrink 6 per cent in 2009.

On the other hand, the Indian economy grew 6.7 per cent last fiscal and the RBI, considered conservative by many, projected the economy to expand by 6 per cent with upward bias in the current fiscal.

Investment of over USD 22 billion have been made in SEZs, that have started operations, in India in the last three years.

Exports from these zones have gone up from USD 7.2 billion to approximately USD 21 billion in the last three years despite difficult circumstances in the overseas market.

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