In Mumbai, Obama announces plans to boost U.S. trade with India

The president and the first lady visited India and Indonesia, part of a 10-day trip to Asia, the longest foreign trip of Obama's presidency.
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 12:05 AM

MUMBAI - Days after reaping the political consequences of a poor economy, President Obama announced a set of measures Saturday to increase trade between the United States and India, his first stop on an Asian tour focused largely on promoting economic growth at home.

In an address to several hundred American and Indian executives in this historic trading port, Obama said he would make "fundamental reforms" to the export controls that guide trade between the two countries. Administration officials said those include removing several Indian space and defense companies from the entities list, which identifies firms that manufacture products with dual civilian and military purposes and makes it more difficult for them to trade with the United States.

Obama also informed Indian officials that he will support the country's membership to four international alliances responsible for regulating trade in nuclear, chemical, biological and missile technology and materials, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Indian leaders have aspired to join, but U.S. nonproliferation groups immediately criticized the move for weakening the world's ability to monitor nuclear trade.

"I'm here because I believe that in our interconnected world, increased commerce between the United States and India can be and will be a win-win proposition for both nations," Obama told the U.S.-India Business Council, drawing applause. "I realize that for some, this truth may not be readily apparent."

Recalling an issue from the midterm campaign trail, Obama said that "there are many Americans whose only experience with trade and globalization has been a shuttered factory or a job that was shipped overseas."

"There still exists a caricature of India as a land of call centers and back offices that cost American jobs," he said. "But these old stereotypes, these old concerns ignore today's reality."

Obama's remarks placed the U.S economy at the center of his first extended foreign trip this year, and highlighted the political challenge he faces in promoting economic policies abroad that divide Americans at home, including many within his own party.

He arrived in India's commercial capital at the end of a week when U.S. voters punished Democrats - and by extension his administration - for failing to move quickly enough to create jobs during a still-staggering recovery.

But his three-day stay in India also follows months of complaint from its leaders, who fear that a relationship that thrived under the previous administration has stagnated under this one. He plans to speak throughout his 10-day trip to four Asian nations about how his foreign policy goals relate directly to U.S. economic interests at home.

To underscore the point, Obama alluded in his speech to a set of newly consummated export contracts, some in the works for months, between American companies and the Indian government and private firms. Administration officials said the deals - including the sale of military transport aircraft, civilian airplanes, mining equipment and jet engines - are worth $10 billion and support 54,000 jobs in the United States.

"A president's visit is an action-forcing event," said Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. "It helps concentrate the minds of decision makers."

The jobs equation

Ahead of his arrival, a group of American chief executives here for Obama's visit sought to dispel concerns that India, a fast-growing economy of 1.2 billion people, takes more U.S. jobs than it is likely to generate.

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