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Flying start to Obama visit

 MUMBAI, Nov 6 – President Barack Obama today began his 3-day visit to India with a surprise announcement of business deals worth US$ 10 billion in aviation, power and other sectors that will create 50,000 jobs in the US, but he made a strong pitch for New Delhi reducing trade barriers.

Seeking to double US exports to India and create employment in the two nations, he asked why India could not be the US’ top trading partner from the 12th position now.

Making the trip against the backdrop of strong electoral reverses on top of slow economic recovery, evidenced by the high unemployment rate, Obama appeared to strongly bat for American access to Indian market, saying US companies wanted to invest more in India.

In the surprise announcement, Obama said that moments before he arrived several landmark deals were sealed between the US and India, which included Boeing’s cargo and commercial aircraft with low-cost airline Spicejet, besides advanced jet engines by General Electric.

He said Boeing was going to sell dozens of planes, while GE would give more than 100 electric engines among more than 20 deals worth US$ 10 billion (nearly Rs 44,000 crore) and sealed before his arrival.

He, however, wanted India to cut barriers to both trade and investment in different sectors saying cooperation could not be a one-way street and effort should be made for creation of jobs in both the countries.

“Infrastructure, greater trade barriers and other issues still pose some serious challenges. Today, India is making major investments in its infrastructure and creating greater transparency to support growth and entrepreneurship.

“Going forward that commitment must be matched by a steady reduction in barriers to trade and foreign investments from agriculture to infrastructure, from retail to telecom, because in a global economy new growth and jobs flow to countries that lower barriers to trade and investment,” Obama said in his address to the US India Business Council as he began his maiden visit to India.

Committing to enhancing American investment in India, the US President said the two countries had the potential to double bilateral trade in the next five years and such a situation would be a “win-win proposition for both the nations.”

Before his address to industry captains at the US India Business Council, Obama was present at the announcement of a deal between Reliance Power and GE for power equipment supply and another by low-cost air carrier Spicejet to procure 30 new-generation 737 aircraft from Boeing for US$ 2.7 billion.

These deals were part of the more than 20 deals between Indian and US corporates that were referred to by President Obama when addressing industrialists from the two nations later.

The deals also include Indian military’s plans to buy aircraft engines from GE.

Obama said the steps that the two countries take together can strengthen the economic ties between the two nations.

“Ties that hold incredible promise for people and our future. The promise of new jobs, industries and new growth. Whether or not that promise is fulfilled, depends on us, on the decisions we take and partnerships we build in the coming years.”

“There is no reason why India cannot be our top trading partner (from 12th position now)... I’m absolutely sure that the relationship between India and the US is going to be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” he said.

On the occasion, Obama said this was barely scratching the potential and dubbed India as the market of the future where Washington was willing to step up investments, provided uncertainties relating to tariffs and other barriers were taken care of.

Easing of export rules could result in ending the technology denial regime against Indian entities such as DRDO and ISRO.

India-US trade stood at US$ 36.5 billion in 2009-10 fiscal and the two countries aim to double trade in the next five years.

Describing India, which receives about 8 per cent of its total foreign direct investment from the US, as a defining and indispensable partner of the 21st century, Obama said that Americans have helped build India during the days of agricultural revolution like the Indians helped build America.

“Today, your country is one of the fastest growing economies of the world” and the pace of the country’s progress in the last two decades is an achievement, he said, referring to end of the ‘Licence Raj’ and embrace of open market economy.

“You have created one of the largest middle-class (population) of the planet,” he said, adding that India’s rising growth has made it one of the largest economies of the world.

Obama said that he has no doubt that the two countries can do better in trade. “I have no doubt that we can do much better. There is no reason why India cannot be our trading partner.”

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