Louisiana’s two-term governor and aspiring presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal, just returned from a 10-day junket to the Far East. Stops were made in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan for the expressed purpose of seeking out foreign investment in the Bayou State. But if industrial development in the state by foreign companies was his goal, Jindal missed the mark by some 1300 miles.
Jindal is one of two Indian American governors in the U.S. But so far, he has passed on the opportunity to travel to India and move Louisiana onto the front burner of a special relationship with the world’s largest democracy. The other Indian American Governor, Nicki Haley of South Carolina, has made several trips to India. Her first visit was just a few months after taking office.
Jindal had a face to face meeting with the Prime Minister of India back in 2009, when he attended a dinner in the Prime Minister’s honor at the White house. And if Jindal is the smart Rhodes scholar he has been touted to be, one would have thought that he would have seized the chance to build a special relationship based on his ancestry. In recent years, India has been reaching out, worldwide, for both export and import opportunities. If Jindal had played his cards right, Louisiana would now be the bountiful beneficiary of a new and huge trading partner.
Jindal had more in common with the Prime Minister than just their mutual Indian heritage. The leader of the world’s largest democracy, like Jindal, took a degree from Oxford University, and worked as a policy wonk in several government appointed positions. The chemistry is there to build a strong relationship between these two leaders and their respective country and state.
Speaking in Washington to the United States-India Business Council, Prime Minister Manmohan made it clear India would do a significant amount of business in the United States. He said, “I am happy to say that American business has been part of India’s economic transformation. Most of the large American corporations are now present in India as foreign direct investors. Many are engaged in high technology work, with their Indian operations forming part of their global supply chains. US business in India has also groomed managerial and technical talent which they have liberally used for their global operations.”
The problem is that India, up till now, has had little trade flow or business ties with Louisiana. India has become a major importer of products readily available in Louisiana, yet there has been only minor trading activity. India needs to import petroleum based products, including synthetic rubber imports and a vast array of chemicals and chemical related goods including synthetic fertilizers. Louisiana, of course, has the largest concentration of chemical plants in the nation. Coal has become a major import for India. Jim Welch, who heads up Louisiana’s permits division for natural resources, confirms that the state has a vast supply of lignite coal in Northwest Louisiana that is ripe for mining.
India has become a major importer of fruit, and is particularly looking for citrus. Oranges from Plaquemines parish and strawberries in southeast Louisiana have strong export potential. If increasing market opportunities became available, there could well be agriculture options to produce apples, pears, figs, plums and a variety of other fruits. And don’t forget sugar. The India Daily newspaper reported recently that sugar prices in India have skyrocketed with forecasts of gloomy prospects for sugar production that Indian officials say could lead to a high import demand due to an output shortfall. This country also is importing cotton, soybeans, and animal hides for leather production.
Do you see the correlation? One of the fastest growing economies in the world is actively seeking a number of products that are available in massive quantities right here Louisiana. And all these imports would be a financial boon for Louisiana’s numerous ports. Recently, there were news reports of a 29% drop off in cargo passing through the Port of New Orleans. We need the business, and India needs our products.
Jindal’s lack of initiative in regard to India is particularly vexing to a number of Louisiana businessmen who would like the chance for trade openings with the world’s fastest growing democracy. A former U.S. Senator from Louisiana told a group in Washington last year that he had made repeated requests to organize a trade mission to India with Jindal leading the way. He received no response. Jindal passed on the chance to open up trade opportunities for his home state, and also to develop his own foreign policy experience as well. In his six years in office, international trade has not been a priority for the Louisiana Governor. But when you have a special entrée to the world’s largest democracy that continues to prosper in spite of the present economy, Jindal had a real shot at opening up business opportunities for a number of Louisiana companies. It’s too bad he did not have the foresight to jump into the fray.