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Arun Kumar Singh is the Indian Ambassador to the United States.
Arun Kumar Singh is the Indian Ambassador to the United States.  (GeekWire photo)

India is becoming a key market for U.S.-based technology companies, while at the same time, Indian companies are investing more cash into the U.S. economy.

Helping nurture and grow the economic relationship between the the two countries is Arun Kumar Singh, who became the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. this past May and is in Seattle this week visiting companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Boeing, and more.

“It’s important that I go out and meet with these companies to understand what they are doing and just get a sense for the possibilities,” Singh told GeekWire this morning during a sit-down interview.

Clearly, U.S. tech companies see massive opportunity in India, which went through an economic reform in the 1990s and could soon pass China as the world’s fastest-growing economy. A few recent examples of this include Qualcomm investing $150 million for a startup fund for India and Amazon’s commitment to “invade India” and “conquer the next trillion-dollar market” as a recent Fortune cover story described.

“The company predicts that India will be its biggest market after the U.S. within a decade and that the Indian e-commerce market as a whole will ultimately be gigantic,” Fortune noted last week in its story, which also sparked some controversy because of cover art that depicted Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as Lord Vishnu.

Singh wouldn’t comment specifically about Seattle-based Amazon, which is competing with India-based companies like Flipkart and Snapdeal, but he did note that “we are trying to see how we can use e-commerce to enable us to contribute to the economic and social processes in India.” Goldman Sachs recently reported that the Indian e-commerce market will be around $228 billion by 2030.

Photo via Shutterstock.
Photo via Shutterstock.

Singh, previously the Deputy Chief of Mission in the Indian embassy in Washington D.C. and Ambassador of India to France, added that there is a renewed focus in India on digital technology and understanding how it changes business models.

“We want to figure out how to use technology to enable empowerment in India — to enable the poorest sections of society to be able to access opportunity, and to enable us to address our challenges while minimizing use of resources,” he said.

There’s also a recent surge in India-based startup activity, Singh noted, with the government taking steps to encourage entrepreneurship and make the process of creating a company more seamless. There has been $6 billion flowing into startups in India over the last two years, he said.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the company's annual shareholder meeting. (GeekWire Photo)
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is one of many India-born technologists who now work for U.S.-based tech companies.  (GeekWire Photo)

“In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of energy in the startup domain in India,” Singh said. “There is a deep partnership between innovation spaces like Silicon Valley and startups in India, so we are trying to see how to promote that.”

Singh pointed specifically to the Qualcomm $150 million startup fund as an example of partnerships that India wants to help foster. He also noted that in the last five years, Indian companies have invested $15 billion in the U.S. economy.

“We want to see how India and the U.S. can work together in a way that works for both U.S. companies and India companies,” said Singh, who added that annual trade between India and U.S. has grown 5X over the last 15 years to $120 billion.

Over the past few decades, there has also been a huge swath of tech talent coming to the U.S. from India, whether it’s leaders like Google CEO Sundar Pichai or Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella — who both earned undergraduate degrees in India before immigrating to the U.S. — all the way to the thousands of engineers and technologists who are working for U.S.-based tech companies.

One hot topic over the past several years is how the U.S government issues H1-B visas, which are frequently used by companies such as Microsoft and Amazon to hire staff from India, China and other countries. They are controversial, having prompted criticism that U.S. high-tech workers are being displaced by imported talent.

Singh said that the H1-B visa structure is “for U.S. authorities to decide,” but he did note that “Indian H1-B workers who come here are contributing to the process of profitability and technology generation for U.S. companies.”

“They are making an important contribution,” Singh said. “I get the sense that U.S. companies find the Indian H1-B workers extremely useful for them to be able to meet their objectives.”

Singh visiting Seattle to meet with companies like Microsoft and Amazon is another symbol of the city’s internationally-recognized technology ecosystem. This past September, China President Xi Jinping met with Nadella, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and several other tech leaders in Seattle to discuss the state of Chinese-U.S. business relationships.

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