Barack Obama’s India trip all about business for US with 20 deals worth £6bn ready to be finalised
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrived yesterday in the Indian commercial capital of Mumbai on the first leg of a 10-day four-nation tour of Asia to drum up business for American companies and to consolidate relations with key allies in the region. The couple will also hope to find some relief from the domestic political fallout of the Democratic party’s resounding defeat in midterm elections last week. The president made his first statement of the trip, the longest he has taken in office, at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the targets attacked by Islamic militants in the city just under two years ago. “We will never forget,” Obama said at a memorial to victims of the attack. The Obamas were due to stay overnight in the hotel before flying to Delhi today. An entire floor has been reserved for their use and all 570 rooms booked for their entourage and security. Around 10,000 security personnel have been deployed. The president, who is travelling with hundreds of investors and trade officials, addressed an audience of top Indian businessmen in Mumbai last night. The White House, aware of the role the fragile American economy played in last week’s poor poll results, has been keen to underline the economic gains the trip is expected to bring for America. American firms are set to finalise deals worth around $10bn (£6bn) withIndia that will support 54,000 jobs back home, senior White House aide Michael Froman told reporters. Some 20 deals are in the pipeline, including an engine contract for General Electric and a $2.7bn commission for passenger aircraft from Boeing for one of India’s fast-expanding private airlines. However, the $4.5bn sale by Boeing of C-17 military transport planes is still being negotiated. The last visit by an American premier, in 2006, saw George W Bush controversially announce America’s formal blessing for India’s civil nuclear power programme. Few expect the same kind of breakthrough this time. But no one predicts an upset either. “At the end it will look good. The Indians understand they need to be seen to be helping the US with some decent economic deals. Obama understands he needs to reassure India that the momentum in relations generated by Bush is still there,” said C Raja Mohan, an Indian academic and foreign policy analyst. The economic emphasis has disappointed some in Delhi. Indian diplomats are looking for signs of a new US strategic vision for South Asia that would give them a central role to counterbalance China. American officials have restricted themselves to noting the “emergence” of India and its middle class and observing that “regional dynamics will change fast” over coming years. US diplomats last week restated their desire to see measures ranging from reforms of ownership regulations to changes in intellectual property law, which would ease the access to Indian markets for American firms. Indian hopes for the waiving of restrictions on the transfer of American technology to government bodies working on space research or nuclear technology seem likely to be fulfilled. The White House is also set to support Indian membership of four key global nuclear nonproliferation regimes. “We will end up treating India similar to other close allies and partners other than as a country of concern,” Froman said. However there is unlikely to be an explicit statement backing India’s bid for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. In Delhi, in addition to a visit to a Mughal-era Islamic tomb, an address to parliament and a state dinner, Obama will meet Manmohan Singh, the 78-year- old Indian prime minister, and Sonia Gandhi, the head of the Congress Party.