Arun Kumar, Washington
With the easing of export controls for India, the United States will press New Delhi to buy US fighter jets and other advanced technology products on a trade mission to India starting Sunday.
“That export control announcement has really opened the door for increased high-technology trade and cooperation between the United States and India” US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told reporters here Thursday.
“The purpose is our trade mission … is to take advantage of that open door,” said Locke who is leading 24 US companies including aerospace majors Boeing and Lockheed Martin and several nuclear power companies on the February 6-11 trade mission.
The trip, which follows President Barack Obama’s visit to India in November, “underscores the importance we attach to the commercial relationship between our two countries,” Locke said.
The two dozen US companies also include GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Westinghouse Electric Company, which is a division of Toshiba Corp, Transco Products, NuScale Power and Exelon Nuclear Partners, which hope to capitalize on a landmark US-India civil nuclear deal signed in 2008.
The trade mission comes on the heels of last week’s announcement lifting a 12-year-old export control ban on nine Indian space and defence-related companies, removing them from the so-called Entity List in a move expected to drive hi-tech trade and forge closer strategic ties with India.
Locke is set to visit the Aero India show at Bangalore Tuesday, where Boeing and Lockheed who are both competing for a $11 billion deal to sell 126 new fighter jets to the Indian Air Force (IAF), will show off their latest wares with other military aircraft manufacturers.
Besides Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed’s F-16, the French Dassault’s Rafale, Russia’s MiG-35, the Swedish Saab’s Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, produced by a consortium of European companies, are in the competition.
Locke said it was ‘a high priority’ for the US government for India to buy the planes from the US. But he would also be pushing for other US military and civil aviation sales at the aerospace show where the US plans to have the largest foreign presence.
Locke linked the trade mission to growing strategic closeness between US and India, saying the steps taken by Washington are ‘just the beginning’ on a route where ‘India will be treated like some of our closest allies’.
Locke said he would also press India to reduce trade and investment barriers. “To take advantage of these opportunities, India itself will have to take some further steps to open its economy,” he said.
Acknowledging that economic reforms take time, Locke said he wants to use the trip to make more progress in addressing US business concerns about tariff and non-tariff barriers, restrictions on foreign direct investment and intellectual-property rights.
When asked about India’s complaints over the recent hike in visa fees for skilled workers, Locke said it is ‘unfortunate’ that Congress chose to use that measure as a way to pay for enhanced border controls.
He said the administration would work with lawmakers to find another way to pay for the border measures.
“It is unfortunate that (increase in categories of H-1B and L1 visa fee) was the vehicle that was chosen to finance some of the measures for enhanced border security,” he said. “We need to work with the Congress to find ways in which we can raise the same amount of dollars.”
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)