President Barack Obama announced a host of new trade deals with India supporting tens of thousands of U.S. jobs Saturday as he began a 10-day trip through Asia on a determinedly domestic note.
Intent on demonstrating his attention to the sluggish U.S. economy even while overseas, Obama also told a meeting of U.S. and Indian executives that the U.S. would relax some export regulations that have complicated trade between America and this fast-growing country of 1.2 billion people.
“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. The remarks also were aimed at U.S. voters who punished Democrats in the midterm elections in part over continued high unemployment.
Obama said it should be a “win-win” relationship with India, but in a nod to U.S. sensibilities he also acknowledged concerns in the U.S. about outsourcing.
“There still exists a caricature of India as a land of call centers,” the president 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.
“There is no reason this nation can’t be one of our top trading partners,” the president said.
To that end he said 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 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.
The commercial deals he announced include the purchase of 33 737s from Boeing by India’s SpiceJet Airlines; the Indian military’s plans to buy aircraft engines from General Electric; and preliminary agreement between Boeing and the Indian Air Force on the purchase of 10 C17s.
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For the most part, the deals were already pending, but the White House contends Obama’s visit to India helped finalize them. Officials said the deals would support 53,670 U.S. jobs, but it was not clear how many, if any, new jobs would be created as a result.
Obama addressed the business leaders shortly after arriving in Mumbai, where his first stop was at the Taj Mahal hotel to commemorate the 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people across the city. The president said he intended to send a signal by making Mumbai the first stop of the trip and by staying at the Taj, which was a target during the terror siege.
“The United States and India stand united,” he said.
“We’ll never forget.
But illustrating the difficulties of the U.S.-India relationship, Indian commentators quickly seized on the president’s failure to mention Pakistan. Pakistan was the home of the 10 assailants, the place where they trained and the base they used to launch the attack.
Pakistan is also India’s archrival – but a linchpin for Washington and its allies in the war in Afghanistan.
After his remarks on the terror attacks, Obama visited a museum in a home where Mohandas Gandhi once lived.
The president is aware of sometimes being perceived as antibusiness in corporate America, and said after the elections that he wanted to change that perception. Much of Obama’s day Saturday appeared geared toward that goal.
Before speaking to business leaders, he met separately with some of them, letting reporters look on as he tied his mission to U.S. job creation and proclaimed the importance of working with fast-growing economies.
The White House also arranged for four American chief executives who are in India for the occasion to brief reporters traveling with the president. They talked up the importance of India as a trading partner and praised Obama’s decision to come to the country to underscore that point in person.
Obama was spending three days in India, his longest stretch yet in one country, a point U.S. officials have been careful to emphasize as they play up the administration’s interest in nurturing the relationship. On Sunday he heads to New Delhi, the capital, where he will address the parliament.
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 and then to Japan for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, before returning to Washington on Nov. 14, a day before the start of Congress’ lame-duck session.