US President Barack Obama has left the Indian city of Mumbai for New Delhi, with the ink drying on freshly-signed business deals that he hopes could help kickstart the struggling US economy.
Obama will have dinner with Manmohan Singh, the former finance minister who helped open up India’s economy in the 1990s and who as premier has overseen sustained growth that has become the envy of nations affected by the global slowdown.
The US president, though, was first expected to drop in on local schoolchildren in Mumbai to help celebrate the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, and be grilled by students in a town hall-style meeting.
He will also manage a spot of sightseeing in the Indian capital with a visit to the tomb of the 16th century Mughal emperor Humayun, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Obama arrived in Mumbai on Saturday in his first visit to India as US president as part of a four-nation Asian tour weighted towards finding new markets for US exports.
He said 10 billion dollars in trade deals had been signed that would create 50,000 US jobs at a time of high unemployment and concern about the state of the economy that contributed to his defeat in mid-term elections last week.
“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 business leaders.
“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.”
The commercial agreements included a 7.7 billion dollar contract for Boeing to supply 30 of its 737 aircraft to India’s SpiceJet airline.
Obama said there was still “enormous untapped potential” in trade between the two countries and announced the relaxation of technology export restrictions imposed after India’s nuclear tests back in 1998.
That included lifting bars on India’s purchase of so-called “dual use” technologies that have civilian or military applications.
He urged India to play its part by implementing “a steady reduction in trade barriers” in sectors from retail to telecommunications as he outlined a vision for India to become one of the United States’ top trading partners.
Obama and his wife Michelle began their visit by signing the book of condolence to those who died when heavily-armed militants stormed the Taj Mahal Palace hotel as part of a wave of attacks on the city that killed 166.
In New Delhi, both countries — now enjoying warmer relations since the frosty days of the Cold War and after India’s nuclear tests — will announce the creation of a joint centre for developing “clean energy”.
The Obama administration has also sought help on tackling climate change with China, which has surpassed the United States to become the world’s top carbon emitter.
The United States is also expected to announce help for increasingly energy-hungry India to map out shale reserves, the deep-underground gas source that has triggered a boom in North America.
Prime Minister Singh recently told energy firms to scour the globe for fuel supplies, warning demand for fossil fuels was set to soar 40 percent over the next decade, as India’s 1.2 billion-strong population grows and gets richer.
Obama’s itinerary in New Delhi also includes an address to parliament, meetings with Prime Minister Singh and President Pratibha Patil, plus the leader of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi.
He will also visit the Raj Ghat, the site of the cremation of the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi after his assassination in 1948. Obama visited Gandhi’s former home in Mumbai on Saturday.