Apple’s Tim Cook calls India ‘huge opportunity’ after tech meeting at White House with Prime Minister Modi


US President Joe Biden looks on as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a meeting with senior officials and CEOs of American and Indian companies, in the East Room the White House in Washington, DC, on June 23, 2023. 

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

The CEOs of Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft got a healthy dose of facetime with the leader of India this week, who was in the U.S. to meet with President Biden as well as other political and business leaders.

The tech company execs spent over an hour with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inside the White House on Friday, discussing opportunities and challenges in investing in India. Earlier in the week, Modi met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

After the meeting concluded at the White House, Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNBC that India represents a “huge opportunity.” When asked if Apple would continue expanding there, he pointed to the two retail stores the company opened in India earlier this year.

It was the first state visit to the U.S. for Modi, who became prime minister in 2014. Following Friday’s meeting, the White House said Google will be working with the Indian Institute of Science on open sourcing of speech data for artificial intelligence models.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was also in Washington for the event. Two people with knowledge of the matter said Altman and Modi discussed opportunities to collaborate on AI.

Hemant Taneja, CEO of venture capital firm General Catalyst, attended the roundtable. Ahead of the meeting, he shared with CNBC his intentions to find alignment on efforts to streamline technology transfer rules between the U.S. and India, which has overtaken China as the world’s most-populous country. U.S. relations with China have become increasingly strained in the past few years.

“We are in a digital cold war with China, and this approach will ultimately foster an atmosphere of increased cooperation,” Taneja said.

Large semiconductor companies like Micron and Applied Materials used Modi’s visit as an opportunity to announce plans to make significant investments India. Micron is aiming to open a facility in Modi’s home state of Gujarat as the broader chip industry looks for ways to diversify its supply chain. Lam Research revealed plans to train 60,000 Indian engineers. 

Access to highly skilled labor and outdated labor laws are challenges for American businesses when it comes to staffing up in India.

“U.S. companies in India have had difficulties over time with regulatory uncertainty as well as challenges in relocating or terminating employees,” said Kenneth Juster, former U.S. Ambassador to India. Juster, who’s now a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he remains optimistic, adding that India has pledged to ease the process for foreign companies to do business there.

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