NEW DELHI — President Obama on Monday announced a series of modest initiatives to bolster trade and investment with India as he nears the end of a three-day trip here that has underscored the fragile nature of the renewed U.S.-India partnership.
The United States will set in place a series of plans to generate more than $4 billion in investment between the two countries, including supporting U.S. exports to India and renewable energy investments, Obama announced during the U.S.-
India Business Council Summit here.
On Sunday, leaders of the two countries announced that they have made progress on a long-standing impasse involving civilian nuclear cooperation and have renewed their 10-year defense agreement. They also announced movement on climate change discussions.
“Our two nations are prepared to step forward firmly to accept the responsibility of this global partnership for our two countries and toward shaping the character of this century,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Sunday.
Despite the budding friendship and the much-touted “chemistry” between Obama and Modi, one theme resonated: Much remains to be done.
“The next time I come to India, I expect we will have made more progress,” Obama told business leaders, saying that the U.S.-India relationship is “defined by so much untapped potential.”
Obama had hoped to leave New Delhi being able to announce a smaller version of the landmark climate change deal between the United States and China in November. Instead, he departs with a series of modest proposals, including joint projects to improve air quality in some Indian cities and an agreement to make “concrete progress” on phasing out hydrofluorocarbons.
Most significant was the deal on nuclear plant liability, but even on that issue, there were few specifics.
The president’s New Delhi trip came just months after Modi and Obama met in Washington. The two embarked on an unlikely partnership that both men hope will benefit their countries and their own political standing.
“Barack and I have forged a friendship,” Modi said. “There is openness when we talk, and we even joke and share a lot together. I think this is a chemistry which has not only brought Washington and Delhi, Barack and I, closer, but also the two peoples of the two countries closer.”
The men spent most of the two days together, sipping tea in the lavish gardens of the presidential palace, attending a state dinner and taking a walk. But whether the friendship can yield additional tangible gains remains an open question. Both sides are looking for results out of what appears to be a pivotal moment for both countries.
Business leaders, including MasterCard chief executive Ajay Banga, cited progress on economic issues, another area the United States hopes to boost, but said sticking points remain in areas such as taxes and regulations.
Banga said that few immediate deals were expected out of the summit of business leaders. Instead, the focus was on removing hurdles that have been in place for years.
“We have a lot of work to do, and we’ve committed to confronting the political and economic challenges together,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said.
The trip underscored how both countries see India as an important economic player in an Asia dominated by China.
“We do about $100 billion a year in trade with India, which is a great improvement since I took office,” Obama said Monday. “But we do about $560 billion a year with China. That gives you some sense of the potential both for the kind of growth that India might unleash, and the potential for greater trade between our two countries.”
Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, said that both the United States and India have close relations with China but that Washington and New Delhi are “committed to a rules-based order in this part of the world.”
Obama started his Monday as the special guest at the country’s annual Republic Day parade, which involved a lavish display of India’s military might, floats, dance performances and daredevil feats on motorcycles. The two men sat together in a booth under dreary skies.
The invitation to be the special guest at the parade, which celebrates the adoption of the Indian constitution, is one of the most important and symbolic in India. Republic Day is a national holiday, with most workplaces and stores closed, and the sale of alcohol is forbidden.
Obama nodded as he watched the parade and smiled as he watched a group of children in blue uniforms. He clapped after another performance. He and Modi occasionally leaned in toward each other, chatting. At one point, Obama popped a piece of gum into his mouth. First lady Michelle Obama smiled as a large group of children clad in shiny, bright jumpsuits performed a dance.
Obama will give a speech here Tuesday morning before heading to Saudi Arabia.