President Barack Obama announced Saturday 10 billion dollars in trade deals with India to create 50,000 US jobs, on a visit that began with an emotional tribute to victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Kicking off a four-nation Asian tour weighted towards prying open new markets for US goods, Obama also said he would relax technology export restrictions imposed after India’s nuclear tests back in 1998.
“As we look to India today, the United States sees an opportunity to sell our exports in one of the fastest growing markets in the world,” he told an audience of US and Indian businessmen in financial the hub of Mumbai.
“For America this is a jobs’ fair. As we recover from this recession we are determined to rebuild our economy on a stronger foundation for growth,” he added.
At the same time, he urged India to play its part by implementing “a steady reduction in trade barriers” in sectors from retail to telecommunications.
“New jobs and growth flow to countries that lower barriers to trade and investment,” Obama said.
“Our trade with India is still less than our trade with the Netherlands,” Obama said. “I have no doubt we can do much better — there is no reason why this nation can’t be one of our top trading partners.”
Rajan Bharti Mittal, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, welcomed what he described as a “very pragmatic speech.”
Outlining a series of measures to ease export controls, Obama said they would allow India’s purchase of “dual use” technologies that have civilian or military applications.
The measures would involve removing Indian space and defence companies from a restricted “entities list” and supporting Indian membership of four key global nuclear nonproliferation regimes.
The commercial agreements included a 7.7 billion dollar contract for Boeing to supply 30 of its 737 aircraft to Spice Airlines, and a preliminary accord on the sale of 10 C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft potentially worth four billion dollars.
Obama and his wife, First Lady Michelle, flew into Mumbai on Air Force One at the start of a trip that will also take the president to Indonesia, South Korea for the G20 summit and Japan for the APEC summit.
The journey, just days after Obama’s Democrats took a drubbing in mid-term elections focusing on the economy, is aimed at boosting US access to emerging Asian markets and creating new US jobs to ease 9.6 percent unemployment.
Obama’s first stop in Mumbai was the Taj Mahal Palace, which was the main target of the November 2008 attacks by 10 Islamist militants that killed 166 people.
“The United States stands in solidarity with all of Mumbai and all of India in working to eradicate the scourge of terrorism,” Obama wrote in the condolence book at a memorial to the victims.
“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 survivors at the hotel.
Treading a fine diplomatic line, Obama did not mention that extremists blamed for the attacks, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group, were based in Pakistan, India’s arch-rival and America’s anti-terror ally.
On the eve of Obama’s departure for India, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the LeT and another group, Jaish-e Mohammed, a key planner of the attacks.
US officials now say that cooperation with India on counter-terrorism is at its highest-ever level, despite India’s misgivings about US support for Pakistan.
After the Taj, Obama toured the Mumbai house of Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi, who he has cited as a key personal influence.
“He is a hero not just to India, but to the world,” he wrote in the visitor’s book.
Obama moves on to New Delhi on Sunday, where he will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and deliver an address to parliament.