Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told nearly a dozen U.S. company chiefs on Monday that he is committed to liberalizing his country's economy, which has underperformed other emerging markets recently after years of breakneck growth.
Modi spoke at a breakfast with 11 chief executive officers during his first U.S. visit since coming came to power in May, vowing to get India's economy back on track.
The prime minister was headed to Washington for a private working dinner with President Barack Obama on the fourth day of the visit. Modi, however, is fasting.
"He wasn't at all like the politicians we're used to here," said Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman, who shared his impressions of the breakfast meeting with Reuters.
"He acknowledged that the last five years have been very difficult for the Indian population, the Indian economy and the world in general, and he vowed and promised to change that. I believed him. He was very serious. ... I was genuinely quite impressed."
However, some U.S. business groups have questioned Modi's reformist credentials.
Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 15 other business associations representing various sectors gave a more cautious assessment of the prime minister's record so far.
Modi also alarmed some foes of government tinkering with business last week when he said in India that multinational soft-drink giants PepsiCo Inc and Coca-Cola Co should help increase sales by Indian farmers by adding fresh fruit juices to their fizzy drinks.
In a letter to Obama, the U.S. business groups urged the president to press Modi to remove barriers to trade when the two leaders meet on Monday and Tuesday
The letter highlighted India's blockage of a key World Trade Organization agreement reached last year, which overshadowed a July 30-August 1 visit to India by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The business alliance also complained about India's raised tariffs and "burdensome" new testing requirements on imported information and communication technology products.