By Len Lazarick
Gov. Martin O’Malley, talking to reporters via Skype from India’s financial capital of Mumbai, on Tuesday strongly defended his six-day trade mission to the subcontinent.
“It would be economically irresponsible for us not to be engaged with India,” O’Malley said.
Maryland officials and Indian importers signed agreements Tuesday to boost the exports and imports between the two countries, which have grown by 70 percent since 2005, according to Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson, who is on the mission with the governor.
That moved India up from 18th to 11th place as a trade partner with Maryland.
“India will become one of our top five trading partners” in coming years, O’Malley said.
O’Malley said his Sunday stopover in Doha, Qatar, where he met with the amir and investment groups, was part of a long-term strategy to “forge a sister-state relationship with a Muslim country in the Middle East.”
The governor also visited “big entities that make big investments,” including Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment, which this year put $700 million in City Center on the former four-block site of the Washington, D.C., convention center.
“We would welcome foreign investment in Maryland,” O’Malley said.
House of Delegates Majority Leader Kumar Barve, whose grandfather emigrated from Mumbai a century ago, said the Indians they met were impressed with the size and breadth of the Maryland delegation, which includes about 100 people.
Paying their own way
“No other state has put together so many people to pay their own way,” Barve said. “The vast majority of the costs of this visit is being born by the participants.”
That includes Barve, and freshman Dels. Sam Arora and Aruna Miller, all Montgomery County Democrats. O’Malley said he had bragged at least 20 times that the three delegates meant that Maryland has more Indian Americans than any legislature in the country.
About 75 members of the delegation are paying their own way, at a cost of $5,000 to $7,000 per person, according to travel firms making the arrangements.
Manish Kothari, president of Sheladia Associates Inc., a Rockville engineering firm, said he signed a $3.7 million deal Monday to provide design and project management for an Indian national highway.
“Gov. O’Malley’s presence has helped us a lot,” Kothari said.
Kothari has 135 employees in Maryland and does business in 20 countries. He said the lack of U.S. government involvement is striking compared to assistance he sees given firms from other counties.
Other deals announced since O’Malley arrived in Hyderabad Monday include one by Angarai, a Greenbelt management consulting firm specializing in project management, oversight and business transformation solutions. It signed an agreement with CI, a technology product development company based in Chennai, to pursue opportunities in mobile and web applications, potentially opening up an office in Maryland.
Other memos of understanding were signed involving biomedical equipment and a health hotline to be staffed by a call center in Prince George’s County.
O’Malley has also given addresses to several Indian trade groups, and on Monday signed a sister-state agreement with the state of Andhra Pradesh, whose capital is Hyderabad. The governor is scheduled to sign another on Wednesday with the state of Maharashtra in its capital of Mumbai.
Johansson said that one reason to pursue overseas trade at this time is that “the export markets are growing faster than our domestic markets.”
O'Malley said some of the objections to the trade mission raised by Maryland citizens reflect "a xenophobia wave that's going through our country."