Examining U.S.-India Economic Ties

As President Obama arrives in India, Renee Montagne talks with Wall Street Journal Delhi business correspondent Amol Sharma about the importance of economic ties between the U.S. and India — and the huge defense deals on the horizon.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now for a closer look at the billions of dollars in deals announced by Mr. Obama in India this past weekend. Amol Sharma is a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, based in New Delhi.

Thank you for coming on the program.

Mr. AMOL SHARMA (Journalist, Wall Street Journal): Thank you. Good to be here.

MONTAGNE: India is, of course, a huge country with a huge market potential. How much does the U.S. currently export there?

Mr. SHARMA: U.S. exports are at about $17 billion to India now. But if - that sounds a big number, but India is still only the 12th largest trade partner of the U.S. So there's still a lot of room for growth, and that's what President Obama was highlighting here. He wants to open new markets for U.S. companies that - hopefully, from his standpoint - will create jobs back at home.

MONTAGNE: Well, what sort of exports are going in there now?

Mr. SHARMA: Well, it ranges. I mean, what we heard about on the trip, that the president has made here, are mostly heavy infrastructure deals. There are a few big defense contracts that were announced: Boeing, almost $4 and a half billion deal for military transport aircraft. There was a civilian aircraft deal; some jet engines were sold.

But there's also all kinds of smaller transactions, from telecommunications to a variety of other sectors. So, the trade is pretty broad with India. But there are areas, like retail and agriculture, that are still pretty closed off to foreign companies and U.S. companies. So the president really wanted to strike a balance between highlighting the areas where there has been progress and where trade is robust, but also press India to open its markets more to foreign investment.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about India? Is it mainly interested in buying these sorts of military hardware, or does it have an interest in other goods from the U.S.?

Mr. SHARMA: Well, there has been this question here: What does India get out of it? And the Indian media has been asking that question in the last few days. I think - look, India is buying the most advanced technology in the world when it comes to defense - or at least, among the most advanced technology. And so what they're getting is a strategic relationship with the U.S., where they can upgrade and modernize.

For example, in defense, they're spending $45 billion over five years in India to modernize all their defense equipment, much of which is aging. So this helps them on that front. The bilateral trade that goes on in the normal course of the relationship, it ebbs and flows, but it does create jobs here as well. Companies, like GE, that sell India a lot of products, that sell power turbines and jet engines and all sorts of products - in health care, they sell products. They also create a lot of jobs in India.

So there is the long-term view, and the case the president was trying to make is that you have to look at these transactions with a broad perspective. And over the long term, U.S. companies can create jobs in India if they can do more business.

MONTAGNE: Although creating jobs in India - of course, that would be a touchy subject here in the U.S. I mean, the president branded his trip to India as an effort to win deals that would help create jobs in the U.S. And of course, Americans think of it the other way around. How real is Mr. Obama's promise of potential American jobs being created through new economic exchanges with India?

Mr. SHARMA: I think that was a big challenge of the trip. What the president said was that all the deals that were announced here, the roughly $10 billion in deals, would support over 50,000 jobs in the U.S. And obviously, that's a key message that the White House wants to hammer home after the midterm elections.

What they're trying to do is broaden the discussion beyond outsourcing. And outsourcing, of course, no one is going to argue that there are jobs that are leaving the United States in technology services and going to India. But I think what the president was trying to do here is try to appease both constituencies - both in the U.S. and in India - by broadening the discussion and saying yes, there's outsourcing, but that's a small sliver of the trade relationship with India.

So actually, all these sales that we're announcing here are going to create a lot of jobs at home. And I think they want that to be the message that's sent back to the United States.

MONTAGNE: Amol Sharma is a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in New Delhi. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. SHARMA: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: President Obama wraps up his trip to India this evening with a state dinner. He'll be in Indonesia tomorrow.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.