Obama kicks off India trip with appeal for more trade

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 6, 2010 

MUMBAI - President Barack Obama kicked off a three-day visit to India on Saturday, asking the world’s second-largest nation and emerging economy to lower trade barriers and, in turn, offering more access to U.S. technology and cooperation on fighting terrorism.

He also asked Americans to reconsider what he described as outdated stereotypes of India as a land of call centers and outsourced U.S. jobs and instead see the developing nation of 1.2 billion people as a huge potential market that can help the American economy rebuild over the long term after a deeply damaging recession.

“There are many Americans whose only experience with trade and globalization has been a shuttered factory or a job that was shipped overseas,” Obama told a U.S.-India Business Council summit that drew hundreds of representatives from both countries.

“Here in India, I know that many still see the arrival of American companies and products as a threat to small shopkeepers and to India’s ancient and proud culture,” he said. “But these old stereotypes, these old concerns, ignore today’s reality. . . it is a dynamic two-way relationship that is creating jobs, growth and higher living standards in both our countries.”

On Sunday, the president is to attend a celebration of the Indian Diwali holiday and hold a town-hall event with university students in Mumbai. Then he’s to fly to New Delhi for more events before heading to Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, all part of a four-nation tour of Asian democracies.

In Mumbai, Obama called the pace of India’s growth and rise of a middle class over the past two decades despite the nation’s massive poverty “one of the most stunning achievements in human history” and said expanded commercial ties will “strongly benefit” both countries.

Still, he noted that the U.S.’s entire trade with India is less than U.S. trade with the Netherlands.

The White House used Obama’s visit to announce $9.5 billion in private sector export deals with India that will support an estimated 54,000 U.S. jobs. That includes deals involving Boeing aircraft, General Electric engines, a Harley Davidson assembly plant, Duke Medicine of Durham, N.C., and Bell Helicopter of Hurst, Texas.

A much-anticipated $4.1 billion Boeing deal for the Indian Air Force to buy 10 C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft has reached a “preliminary” agreement, officials said, but was still being finalized.

The Obama administration also announced agreements to support India’s phase-in to full membership in the world’s major nonproliferation regimes. Obama announced a decision to relax U.S. export controls on India, removing three of India’s remaining four defense and space entities from a restricted list and allowing for more dual-use technology sales.

He defended his own past anti-outsourcing remarks, saying that “I make no apologies about doing whatever it takes to encourage job creation and business investment in America” but “I still work to make sure our efforts don’t unfairly target companies and workers from this nation or any nation.”

Obama’s business remarks wrapped up a packed half-day, after he and First Lady Michelle Obama arrived in the early afternoon in India’s financial and entertainment center under heavy security and intense public interest.

At the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, they signed a guest book and placed white roses at a courtyard memorial to victims of the Nov. 26, 2008, attacks by Pakistani-based terrorists that killed more than 160 people including Americans.

The hotel was one of the sites targeted and the White House said Obama is the first foreign leader to stay there since.

In remarks at the hotel, Obama said that “in our determination to give our people a future of security and prosperity, the United States and India stand united.” He also insisted the two democracies are working “closer than ever, sharing intelligence, preventing more attacks, and demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice.”

He didn’t mention Pakistan by name, despite many Indians’ desire for him to hold the neighboring rival nation more accountable for bringing the perpetrators of the so-called 26/11 attacks to justice and stopping elements in Pakistan’s intelligence service from aiding militant groups out to hurt India.

Addressing suspicions among some Indians that the United States withheld information early on about Pakistani-American David Headley, a key figure in the plot and a former informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Obama insisted, “The United States and India are working together more closely than ever to keep our people safe.”

From there, the Obamas were off to Mani Bhavan, a museum and former home to Gandhi, India's independence hero, which Martin Luther King Jr. visited in 1959. Books, a loom and famous quotations were on display along with a bronze cast of Gandhi’s face and two guest books. Obama signed one, and inspected the other, where he found King’s signature and proclaimed, “Pretty cool.”

Obama’s next stops were a roundtable with entrepreneurs and a meeting with CEOs before addressing the business summit.

India’s economy is projected to grow at more than 8 percent annually for the next five years.

In the past eight years global merchandise imports quadrupled to nearly $258 billion. The United States accounts for 6 percent of that market now.

And while U.S. merchandise exports to India are growing fast, India is just the 17th largest market for U.S. exports, at about $16 billion by the end of last year.

Machinery, aircraft, electric machinery and fertilizers comprise the top U.S. export categories. U.S. services exports are now more than $10.5 billion. California, Texas, Washington, New York and Florida are the largest state exporters to India.

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