Obama embarks on a sales trip to India

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Friday, November 5, 2010

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama embarks Friday on a history-making trip to India to take Washington’s ties with what he himself describes as an “indispensable partner of the 21st century” to a new level.

From Obama down, officials have held out prospects of significant announcements during his Nov 6-9 without spelling out the specifics, but the president himself has made clear his focus would be on selling US goods and creating jobs in the US.

That has been Obama’s consistent message, more so since voters unhappy over the slow pace of recovery gave his Democratic party what has been called a “shellacking” in the mid-term elections.

On the India trip, “the primary purpose is to take a bunch of US companies and open up markets so that we can sell in Asia, in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, and we can create jobs here in the United States of America,” he said Thursday after a cabinet meeting to take stock after the debacle.

“And my hope is, is that we’ve got some specific announcements that show the connection between what we’re doing overseas and what happens here at home when it comes to job growth and economic growth,” Obama said.

Officials are also at pains to temper Indian expectations about US support for permanent membership of the UN Security Council or easing of US export controls of high technology items to India with Obama calling it a very “complex issue”.

National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer though left out an opening Thursday saying, the two sides were “working through it” and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and others “have been very engaged with our Indian counterparts, and so we’ll see where this ends up.”

More than 200 business leaders, including those from the Fortune 200 to small and medium enterprises, are making the trip to India for the Obama visit.

During his India visit, Obama will meet top US business leaders, including India-born Pepsico chairperson Indra Nooyi, to “discuss the opportunities and challenges of doing business in India,” according to the White House.

The business delegation meeting Obama will include Honeywell International Inc’s David Cote, who co-chairs the India-US CEO Forum with Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata, Boeing Co’s Jim McNerney, General Electric Co’s Jeffrey Immelt and Mcgraw Hill Companies’ Terry McGraw, who is also USIBC chairman.

Louis Chnevert, CEO of aerospace major United Technologies Corporation and Ellen Kullman, chief executive of chemicals giant DuPont may also be joining.

Trade between the US and India more than doubled to $37 billion in 2009 compared with 2003, according to US Commerce Department data. In the first eight months of 2010, total trade topped $32 billion, Commerce figures show.

Ahead of Obama’s trip, a major US trade association representing 300 top US companies doing business with India, has backed India’s aspirations for a permanent Security seat as also removal of barriers to high technology trade

In a five-point agenda for advancing India-US economic partnership, the US-India Business Council (USIBC) also seeks a free trade agreement, educational collaboration, interventions to ‘grow’ agriculture; and infrastructure collaborations.

Washington is also eyeing some multi-billion-dollar defence deals, including a $10-billion project for 126 fighter bombers that the Indian Air Force plans to buy and for which two American companies-Boeing and Lockheed Martin-are among six contenders.

Obama will be the sixth president to visit India after Dwight D. Eisenhower (December 1959), Richard Nixon (July 1969), Jimmy Carter (January 1978), Bill Clinton (March 2000) and George Bush (March 2006).

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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