Obama Starts India Trip With $10 Billion in Trade Deals

The U.S. President Barack Obama began one of the longest foreign trip of his presidency in India with one eye firmly on the voters who delivered a stinging rebuff in last week’s US midterm elections.

Barack Obama India trip: the US president and first lady Michelle Obama step off Air Force One in Mumbai. Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak via Wtluae/Flickr

As the U.S. President Barack Obama flew into Mumbai, India’s financial center, on the first leg of his 10-day Asian tour, he announced $10 billion in business deals which he said would generate 50,000 jobs in the US.

Intent on demonstrating his attention to the sluggish U.S. economy even while overseas, U.S. President also told on a meeting of the U.S. and Indian executives that the U.S. would relax some export regulations that have complicated trade between America and India.

“As we look to India today, the United States sees the opportunity to sell our exports in one of the fastest growing markets in the world. For America, this is a jobs strategy,” the president said in a speech to the U.S.-India Business Council.

He continued: “The United States sees Asia, especially India, as the market of the future. There still exists a caricature of India as a land of call centres and back-offices that cost American jobs. But these old stereotypes, these old concerns, ignore today’s realities.”

The deals between two countries include a $4.1 billion agreement for the Indian air force to purchase 10 C-17 military transport planes from Boeing, which the White House said will support more than 22,000 jobs and is a further example of the expanding American partnership with India.

Boeing said the C-17 deal with India will support 650 suppliers in U.S. 44 states and support the company’s own C-17 production facility in Long Beach, California, for an entire year.

Other deals announced Saturday include a contract for General Electric to profide the Indian Aeronautical Development Agency with 107 F414 engines for the Tejas light-combat aircraft, a deal worth $822 million and supporting 4,440 jobs, the White House said.

Harley-Davidson Motor Company announced it is opening a new plant in India for the assembly of its motorcycles from U.S.-built kits. Besides job creation in both countries, the deal will allow the company to reduce the tariff on its bikes for sale in India, thus driving sales growth for the Wisconsin-based firm.

Boeing also signed a deal to sell 30 of its B737-800 commercial aircraft to SpiceJet, a leading private airline in India. The deal is valued at $2.7 billion and supports nearly 13,000 jobs, the White House said.

He said people in India also are concerned about the impact of U.S. goods coming into their country, but contended that growing trade could only benefit both sides in the long run. He said he sees huge untapped potential in the relationship, noting that India doesn’t even rank among America’s top 10 trading partners.

He also added that the U.S. would seek to reform export controls that resulted from past administrations’ concerns about India’s nuclear industry.

The changes, which have been much sought-after in the business community, include relaxing controls on India’s purchase of so-called “dual use” technologies that could be used for civilian or military purposes.

And also include removing a few of the last remaining Indian companies on a so-called “entities list” of groups that face restrictions on doing business in the U.S.

Hailing the shared democratic values of the two countries, he said of last week’s defeats for his party: “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose elections, but that doesn’t mean the end of democracy.”

His first act on arrival in Mumbai was to pay tribute to victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008, in which Pakistan-based militants killed 166 people in a 60-hour rampage through the city, gunning down their victims at luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre.

“We visit here to send a very clear message that, in our determination to give our people a future of security and prosperity, the United States and India stand united,”  Obama said after meeting victims’ families at the sea-front Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, images of which in flames after battles between terrorists and commandos came to symbolise the massacre.

The attacks two years ago killed 164 people, including more than 30 staff members and guests at the Taj, and Obama’s commemoration of them during his first event here underlined the importance that the United States is placing on boosting collaboration with India.

“We’ll never forget how the world, including the American people, watched and grieved with all of India,” Obama said. “But the resolve and the resilience of the Indian people during those attacks stood in stark contrast to the savagery of the terrorists. The murderers came to kill innocent civilians that day, but those of you here risked everything to save human life.”

Just before the speech, Obama and his wife, Michelle, signed a memorial guestbook for the victims. In his message, Obama wrote about eradicating the “scourge” of terrorism and affirming “our lasting friendship with the Indian people.”

The 2008 attacks, blamed on Pakistani-based militants, derailed a fragile peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad.

But he disappointed many Indians by making no reference to Pakistan, whose government they blame for sheltering militants preparing attacks on India.

“Knowing fully well that Pakistan and Pakistani machinery has been used for perpetrating terror in India, by not acknowledging it he has disappointed the country as a whole,” said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, spokesman for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The White House announced that Mr Obama would support India’s membership of four global non-proliferation organisations, a move to reassure the country – left out of these groups after its 1998 nuclear tests – that the US is recognising its global importance.

With armed police at every road intersection, southern Mumbai was turned into a fortress with police outnumbering onlookers and snipers watching from the tops of buildings along the route.

Police removed coconuts that might conceal bombs from the area around a museum celebrating the life of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, which Mr Obama also visited.

After India, Obama is scheduled to travel to Indonesia, where he lived for four years as a youth. From there he goes to South Korea for a meeting of the Group of 20 developed and developing nations.

After it to Japan for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, before returning to Washington on November 14th, a day before the start of Congress’ lame-duck session. [via Daily News, Huffington Post and Reuters]

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