By: VIKAS BAJAJ and HEATHER TIMMONS
Nearly two years ago, President Obama rankled many people here when he said that American tax law unfairly benefited companies that created jobs in Bangalore and punished companies that hired in Buffalo.
On Tuesday, however, the president’s commerce secretary offered a friendlier message: Let’s do business. In his second stop during a weeklong tour of India, the secretary, Gary Locke, said he wanted to help American companies sell planes, tractors and power equipment to create jobs in the United States while also helping to develop India.
“What we seek is really two-way, mutually beneficial trade,” Mr. Locke said in an interview. He added that the trade should create jobs in both the United States and in India.
Mr. Locke’s visit is part of a year-old initiative by the Obama administration to double exports by 2015 to bolster a still-struggling American economy. In the case of India, the administration has also cast the effort as a way to improve economic relations with an important ally and one of the fastest-growing countries in the world.
The United States is not alone in pursuing such a strategy. Other countries, like China, Russia, France and Britain, have been sending trade missions to India.
Acknowledging that many American companies have not looked outward to bolster their businesses, Mr. Locke said in an interview that he hoped to use his “trade mission” to India, and three other countries later this year, to help businesses exploit opportunities abroad.
“Only 1 percent of U.S. companies export, and of that 1 percent, 58 percent export to only one country, typically Canada or Mexico,” he said. “And yet 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the borders of the United States. So, if U.S. companies want to grow and expand, not only do they have to focus on the domestic market, but they have to look at the 95 percent of customers outside.”
As part of its charm offensive, the Obama administration recently removed nine Indian aerospace and defense companies from a list of restricted entities that cannot be sold certain technologies that have military uses. Mr. Locke is accompanied by representatives from 24 businesses, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Westinghouse, some of whom are hoping to win business as a result of the change in policy.
Trade between the United States and India was growing even before the administration’s recent efforts to focus on this economic relationship.
Total trade in goods and services jumped nearly 20 percent, to $54 billion in the first nine months of 2010. Later this week, India will host a biennial air show in Bangalore where American companies will try to win multibillion-dollar contracts from the Indian Air Force and civilian airlines. They will, however, face stiff competition from European and Russian companies.
Boeing had hoped to sell in India 10 cargo planes for $5 billion during Mr. Obama’s visit in November, but the deal is still not finished. Last month, however, Boeing’s European rival, Airbus, won a large order from IndiGo, a fast-growing Indian low-cost airline that plans to start flying international routes in August. IndiGo ordered 180 planes that have a list price of $15.6 billion. Deliveries are to start in 2015.
Mr. Locke is not the only American official trying to solicit business in India. Individual American states have also sent representatives to coincide with Mr. Locke’s visit. As state governments weigh painful budget cuts and grapple with lingering unemployment, some officials say that increasing exports to India and encouraging investment from its expanding companies is crucial.
“We’re not doing it to get ahead, we’re doing it to not be left behind,” said North Carolina’s secretary of commerce, J. Keith Crisco, who was in New Delhi this week with dozens of executives from his state.
This is the first trade delegation North Carolina has sent to India, Mr. Crisco said, though the state sent people to China and Brazil last year.
“Yes, we are catching up in India,” he said, adding that he expected some announcements of deals related to the trip in coming weeks.
New York State has gone even further. It set up an office in New Delhi last year and is organizing a series of investment conferences in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore this spring, aimed at Indian companies who want to expand to the United States or work as partners with a New York company.
The office is led by Kaviraj Singh, a Delhi lawyer who has lived and worked in New York. He said he planned to use the office to tie New York businesses “into a network that will make you feel as though you’ve always been here.”