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President Obama's 10-day Asia trip began today with a stop in Mumbai. His visit to India's commercial capital was designed mainly to highlight and even expand U.S. trade ties with the country.
As NPR's Corey Flintoff reports now from Mumbai, the president is arguing that more trades, specifically more exports, can mean more U.S. jobs.
COREY FLINTOFF: The president's choice of a place to stay in Mumbai has strong symbolic overtones for Indians. It's the Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the primary targets of the Pakistani terrorists who killed more than 160 people two years ago. The president and the first lady visited a memorial to the victims and met privately with victims' families and survivors.
But the main focus was on business. The president brought with him a delegation of some 200 American business leaders. In a speech at a summit of U.S. and Indian executives, he stressed that a key part of the visit was about American jobs.
President BARACK OBAMA: 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. For America, this is a jobs strategy.
FLINTOFF: In a background sheet provided to journalists, White House officials said that business deals announced just before the conference would support nearly 54,000 American jobs.
The list included an Indian energy company's order for electricity-generating turbines from General Electric and a preliminary agreement for the sale of Boeing military transport planes to India's Armed Forces.
But Atindra Sen, the head of the Mumbai business group, the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, says although trade between the two countries has grown, the number of American jobs created by trade between India and the United States is still very small.
Dr. ATINDRA SEN (Director General, Bombay Chamber of Commerce): Even with the 200 percent increase in Indian imports from the U.S., it's not going to create that many jobs in the U.S. I think while this talk of jobs is probably more for the domestic audience than it is for a real, real issue between India and U.S.
FLINTOFF: Sen, who taught economics in the United States, says most of the job losses there were related to real estate, and he says that's something that can't cross international borders.
But in his speech, the president drove home the prospect that trade between the two countries has a lot of room to grow. He noted that less than 10 percent of India's imported goods now come from the U.S.
President OBAMA: Our entire trade with your country is still less than our trade with the Netherlands. This is a country with a smaller population than the city of Mumbai. As a result, India is only our 12th largest trade partner.
FLINTOFF: The potential for India's growth is enormous. Despite the worldwide recession, India has been posting economic growth rates of well over 8 percent a year.
Its stock market hit a record high yesterday for the second day in a row. The question comes down to whether American businesses and workers can somehow share in that growth.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Mumbai, India.
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