Berenger Anxious To Get India Inc

Updated: Nov 9 2003, 05:30am hrs
The Mauritian PM wants to meet Azim Premji. If not the reclusive Wipro chairman then Vivek Paul. A similar pitch is on to match Paul Berengers diary with the cannons at TCS.

In his first trip here as Prime Minister it begins on November 18 the former trade union leader wants to sew up both Wipro and TCS. His pitch is simple. Mauritius is the best place to have your disaster recovery centre. Aneerood Jugnauth, his predecessor, had clinched Infosys.

Berengers aides look anxious. Jugnauth had got New Delhi to issue a $100-million line of credit for IT. He was given a state-of-the-art cyber city. Work on this is moving at break-neck speed: contractors L&T and Shapoorji Pallonji have been airlifting Indian workers and technicians to meet the December deadline. Jugnauth had got India to tie up with the Business Parks of Mauritius Ltd to help set up disaster recovery centres in the island nation. Besides, he had set the ball rolling on affiliations of a corresponding Indian institution with the Mauritius University of Technology.

Francophonic Berenger must do better. Many in Hindu-dominated Mauritius will judge him on the economic news that he will bring back from India. Pious intent on supporting each others causes at the UN India for a permanent seat in the Security Council and Mauritius for a legal extension of its continental shelf are passe.

For Mauritius, attracting Indias IT giants isnt limited to the holy trinity. Berengers advance party is making pitches before the entire knowledge sector. From ICICI to IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology). Delhi Public School (DPS) to GE Caps. Also, the creme de la creme of the BPO (business process outsourcing) space.

None of them has bitten. But each one is listening. ICICI OneSource, for example, says it is weighing disaster recovery capabilities in both Mauritius and the Philippines. The natural building block is the BPO business. Manila has the cultural proximity to the companys US markets. But Mauritius is saying that it is time Indias high-end financial services BPOs soaked up the action in the French-speaking market. The island has 3,000 chartered accountants with passable degrees from Scotland and Wales alone. Others have been to London.

Forty per cent of higher secondary students have taken accounts as a subject.

As for the IITs, the decision to target the African market lies with the human resource ministry in Shastri Bhavan. Berenger will push. Land, travel costs are no issue at all, a top Mauritius Board of Investment (BOI) official told FE.

Unlike the IITs, in the case of DPS, the society governing the chain of schools is quite a pro at internationalisation. The schools branches sit in Kuwait, Sharjah, Dubai, Bahrain, Qatar, Nepal and Indonesia. Mauritius wants to have one too.

The talks with GE Caps may bear fruit much earlier. Mauritian officials hope that GEs Pramod Bhasin will make an announcement soon.

BOIs make-or-break is whether it can link up existing French business to Indias IT players. For example, Mauritius hosts back-end operation of companies like Accenture, Victoria, Theo France, Astek, Edisis, Air France, France Telecom, Carre Four and Gallerie La Fayette. Renault cars are sold through telemarketing executives of a company called CRM located there. The salary differentials with India arent much of an issue. The key lies in the quality of matchmaking services in any potential Indo-French manthan. French newspaper Le Monde has entered into a syndication tie-up with a small Indian company and the paper will be sold in both Mauritius and key markets in Africa. Berengers officials are knocking at the doors of other Indian presses too. Infosys NR Narayana Murthy is their big mascot. He has been given several early-bird advantages. For example, Mauritius doesnt have open skies on charters, but Infy has advance clearance to fly in a plane full of people at any time. The company doesnt have to employ any local talent. But today, just 20 Infy workers there are Indians. Thirty are Mauritians. The Infy name opens doors for Mauritius. A grateful nation has given the company a 25-acre government land in Rose Hill for the construction of a development centre. One day it might house 3,000 people.

Independent IT professionals seem to be next on Berengers radar. Under SAPS (scheme to attract professionals in emerging markets) six freelance professionals have already re-located to Mauritius. Their spouses can work anywhere and they have the right to buy property.

Mauritius is a tiny island nation located in the Indian Ocean. It has benefited under a highly beneficial double taxation avoidance treaty with India. This helped it climb on to the top of the charts among foreign direct investors in India. Allegations of it being a treaty shopper were settled by the Supreme Court last month.