U.S.- India business opportunities are nearing a turning point pending the May results of a national election that could restore India’s languishing economic growth, speakers said Thursday at a business forum associated with International Indian Film Academy Awards events.



A positive impact from the election could enhance prospects for new ties between the U.S., Florida and Tampa Bay area business interests with businesses in India, participants in the first of a two-day session leveraging the interest and attendance in the Bollywood festivities for mutual economic development.



More than 300 forum participants, 30 percent estimated to be from India, 20 percent from the Tampa Bay area and another 50 percent from the United States, turned out for informational sessions and networking opportunities.



“Many folks in India do not know about Tampa, but these (Bollywood) events will make Tampa known to a large number of people worldwide,” said Kaushal Chari, associate dean for research and professional programs at the University of South Florida College of Business, one of the business forum sponsors.



In addition to upwards of 20,000 estimated to attend Bollywood festivities, the Saturday night film awards will be televised worldwide in June to a projected audience of 800 million viewers.



USF business student Michael Malanga produced a glossy 16-page guide to Tampa Bay area business opportunities, incentive programs and demographics for forum participants and others.



The timing of the economic development forum is fortuitous.



Political speculation reported by international news outlets is that the opposition party Bharatiya Janata and its prime minister candidate might win the world’s largest democratic election that’s under way with 814 million eligible voters, and create an improved international trade climate.



Panel members from prominent businesses in India generally refrained from elections predictions.



But they said change is inevitable if not in the short run, over the course of the next one or two decades, and offered candid opinions on opportunities and challenges for U.S.-India trade and business development.



“Economists view this election is going to be seminal,” said Harshvardhan Neotia, vice president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, adding that India’s burgeoning youthful population and rapid urbanization was creating both a talented work force and a significant consumer group.



But challenges range from taxation to intellectual property rights to perceptions that kickbacks and thefts can be a part of the business dynamic.



“There are real issues between true democracies,” said Didar Singh, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “It’s competition. All things can be sorted out.”



Regardless of the short-term election impacts, India’s population and economic growth over the next 20 years will make U.S.-Indo trade a promising opportunity for business expansion, panelists said.



India is a nation of 1.2 billion people whose gross domestic product growth declined from 8 percent to less than 5 percent the past five years, delaying billions of dollars of investment approvals.



However, annual Indo-U.S. two-way trade in goods and services is valued at more than $100 billion today, with nearly $30 billion in foreign investment.