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Obama unveils major deals on ‘job fair’ visit to India

US President Barack Obama announced yesterday $10 billion in trade deals with India to create 50,000 US jobs, and said Washington and New Delhi stood “united” in their fight against terror.

Kicking off a four-nation Asian tour weighted towards prying open new markets for US goods, Obama also said he would relax technology export restrictions imposed after India’s nuclear tests back in 1998.

The announcements were made in India’s financial hub Mumbai, where the president earlier paid tribute to the victims and survivors of the November 2008 militant attacks that claimed 166 lives.

“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,” he told an audience of US and Indian businessmen.

“For America this is a jobs’ fair. As we recover from this recession we are determined to rebuild our economy on a stronger foundation for growth,” he added.

His speech was clearly aimed not only at India, but at voters in the US who punished Obama’s Democratic Party in mid-term elections last Tuesday, in a cry of anguish over the job-starved economic recovery.

The commercial agreements included a $7.7 billion contract for Boeing to supply 30 of its 737 aircraft to India’s Spice Airlines.

“Today’s deals will lead to more than 50,000 jobs in the United States – everything from hi-tech jobs in southern California to manu­facturing jobs in Ohio,” Obama said.

The president also urged India to play its part by implementing a steady reduction in trade barriers in sectors from retail to telecommunications.

“New jobs and growth flow to countries that lower barriers to trade and investment,” he said.

Rajan Bharti Mittal, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, welcomed what he described as a “very pragmatic speech”.

Outlining a series of measures to ease export controls, Obama said they would allow India’s purchase of “dual use” technologies that have civilian or military applications. The measures would involve removing Indian space and defence companies from a restricted “entities list” and supporting Indian membership of four key global nuclear nonproliferation regimes.

Obama and his wife, First Lady Michelle, flew into Mumbai on Air Force One at the start of a trip that will also take the president to Indonesia, South Korea for the G20 summit and Japan for the APEC summit.

Obama’s first stop in Mumbai was the Taj Mahal Palace, which was the main target of the 2008 attacks by 10 Islamist militants.

“The United States stands in solidarity with all of Mumbai and all of India in working to eradicate the scourge of terrorism,” Obama wrote in the condolence book at a memorial to the victims.

“We visit here to send a very clear message that in our determination to give our people a future of security and prosperity, the United States and India stand united,” Obama said after meeting survivors at the hotel.

Treading a fine diplomatic line, Obama did not mention that extremists blamed for the attacks, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group, were based in Pakistan, India’s arch-rival and America’s anti-terror ally.

The omission was swiftly criticised by India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party as a “missed opportunity.”

On the eve of Obama’s departure for India, the US Treasury Depart­ment imposed sanctions on the LeT and another group, Jaish-e-Moh­am­med, a key planner of the attacks. US officials now say that cooperation with India on counter-terrorism is at its highest-ever level, despite India’s misgivings about US support for Pakistan.

After the Taj, Obama toured the Mumbai house of Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi, who he has cited as a key personal influence.

“He is a hero not just to India, but to the world,” he wrote in the visitor’s book.

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