Saturday, November 06, 2010
Image via WikipediaIn India, Obama Casts Asia Trip as Economic Mission - NYTimes.com
MUMBAI, India — President Obama, fresh off a stinging electoral defeat for the Democrats, opened a 10-day tour of Asia on Saturday with a courtship of corporate America, including private meetings with American business executives visiting here and an announcement that he will lift longstanding restrictions on exports of closely held technologies to India.
After an election season dominated by voter dissatisfaction with his management of the economy, the president is casting the four-nation trip, which will also take him to Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, as an economic mission. His agenda is heavy on taking steps to open foreign markets to American goods; he hopes to come home from South Korea, for instance, with a renegotiated free trade pact.
Here in Mumbai, Mr. Obama lavished attention on American business leaders who timed their visit to his and spotlighted $10 billion worth of deals between American and Indian companies that, the White House said, would support more than 50,000 jobs in the United States.
The easing of the so-called dual-use restrictions, which bar American export of technologies that might be used to build weapons, represents a policy change that is a high priority for companies here and in the United States.
“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,” Mr. Obama told a gathering of political leaders and Indian and American executives. “For America, this is a jobs strategy.”
Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, Mr. Obama began his day here on a somber note, by paying homage to victims and survivors of the 2008 terrorist siege in Mumbai by Pakistani militants. But the president failed to mention the terrorist threat to India that emanates from Pakistan — an omission that drew some criticism here. He also made a brief stop at the home, now a museum, where Mohandas K. Gandhi stayed while fighting for his country’s independence.
But such symbolic acts quickly gave way to Mr. Obama’s diplomatic and business agenda, aimed at strengthening ties between the nations. India has long sought a loosening of the export restrictions more for political reasons than economic ones — the country does not want to be viewed as a rogue state. Mr. Obama is also taking Indian defense research and space agencies off the so-called entities list of companies that have faced special hurdles in trading with the United States. Executives here welcomed the moves.
“It is a signal No. 1 about India as an ally, and No. 2, it has a business potential,” Anand Mahindra, managing director of the Indian conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra, said in an interview. “Both of these are important.”
Still, one of Mr. Obama’s main audiences in many ways seemed to be America’s chief executives, many of whom spent the recent campaign accusing the White House of being antibusiness and pouring money into the coffers of Republican candidates and groups that aimed to defeat the Democrats.
More than 200 American executives timed a business conference to coincide with Mr. Obama’s arrival in Mumbai — and the president worked hard to reciprocate.
The chief executive officer of Boeing, Jim McNerney, who also leads the President’s Export Council, greeted Mr. Obama when Air Force One touched down, and then flew downtown aboard the presidential helicopter. Later, Mr. Obama met privately with American chief executives, among them Jeffrey R. Immelt of General Electric, who has been critical of the White House in the past.