India PM Modi courts investors during Japan trip

TOKYO - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday sought to reassure investors that his reformist agenda would translate into better governance for Asia's third-largest economy.

During an official visit to Japan, the Indian leader told business leaders in Tokyo that he wanted to cast off the image of a country shackled by red tape and poor infrastructure.

"We have carried out various deregulation measures," Modi, who swept to power in May, told a forum hosted by the Nikkei newspaper and the Japan External Trade Organisation.

"Businesses and industries need stability and a growth environment. India has become a country that provides both."

The Japanese government is encouraging businesses to tap fast-growing emerging markets such as India, as the domestic market shrinks due to a rapidly aging population and low birth rate.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after holding an official meeting with Modi on Monday, announced his intention to offer public and private investment and financing worth 3.5 trillion yen (S$42 billion) over five years to pave the way for Japanese firms to boost their ties to the Indian market.

The figure, which marks a doubling of present levels, includes a 50 billion yen loan for infrastructure development for a country where transport links, power production and telecommunications systems can be shaky and unreliable.

India's new government has pledged to fix the flagging economy and provide water, power and toilets to every home.

Modi's administration also said it was aiming to overhaul India's dilapidated roads and build a high-speed train network and more airports.

But the experience of Japanese and other foreign firms in India has been marred by some high-profile disasters.

Among them was pharmaceutical maker Daiichi Sankyo's US$4.6 billion purchase of Indian giant Ranbaxy in 2008.

The Japanese drugs maker decided to sell Ranbaxy in April after US regulators banned imports of its drugs over quality concerns, dealing a huge blow to Daiichi Sankyo's bottom line.

Small car maker Suzuki has suffered from bouts of labour unrest at its Indian operations, including a 2012 riot that resulted in the death of a personnel manager.

But on Tuesday, Suzuki's chief said the company had seen big financial success since it entered the Indian market three decades ago.

"Geographically, India is nine times larger than Japan. Its population is 10 times bigger," Osamu Suzuki told the forum.

"This is a nation whose economy is bound to grow."