x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Obama inks US$10bn trade deal in India

The US president wraps his first day with a meeting of entrepreneurs and said he hopes the countries' relationship will be "a defining one", as well as lending his support should India pursue a bid for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The US president, Barack Obama, greets the audience as he stands beside India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, at Parliament House in New Delhi yesterday.
The US president, Barack Obama, greets the audience as he stands beside India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, at Parliament House in New Delhi yesterday.

MUMBAI // The US president Barack Obama yesterday announced a series of business deals that will create more than 50,000 US jobs, and sent a powerful message against terrorism as he arrived in India on the first day of his three-day visit.

"The economic relationship between India and the US has enormous potential," Mr Obama said while meeting Indian and American entrepreneurs and speaking to the US-India Business Council meeting at the Trident hotel.

Mr Obama also said the US would support India's bid for a membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a small but influential multinational group that works to reduce nuclear proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of materials.

"This is the longest visit to a country I have made since becoming president," he said. "The relationship between India and the US will be a defining one and will be an indispensable partnership in the 21st century."

The first lady, Michelle Obama, met a group of college students at Mumbai University who volunteer to teach English to orphans. She played hopscotch and danced to Rang De Basanti, a popular Bollywood song.

"Education is all you need," she told the children.

The couple's first stop, after arriving around noon local time, was the Taj Mahal Palace hotel where Mr Obama spoke to a group of 50 people, including survivors and victims' families of the November 26, 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people.

After offering a single, white rose at the hotel's "tree of life" memorial, Mr Obama signed the guest book, as Mrs Obama looked on.

Mr Obama praised the city, its people and called the hotel a symbol of "strength and resilience of Indian people".

"There has been a great commentary on our decision to begin our visit here, in this dynamic city at this historic hotel."

"Those who have asked whether this is intended to send a message, my answer is simply 'absolutely'," he said about his intention to stay at the hotel.

He said the two countries were working together to prevent terrorist attacks by sharing intelligence and ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice.

"We, today, the US and India, are working together, more closely than ever to deepening counter-terrorism (co-operation), to keep our people safe," he said. "We go forward with confidence knowing that history is on our side."

The couple also visited Mani Bhawan, Mahatma Gandhi's home, which is now a museum.

"I am filled with hope and inspiration as I have the privilege to view this testament to Gandhi's life. He is a hero not just to India, but to the world," Mr Obama said.

The arrival of the Obamas placed parts of the city under lockdown for days, leading some residents to blame the American president for ruining Diwali, the Indian national holiday known as the festival of lights.

In preparation for his visit, the sidewalks were given a fresh coat of paint and all dustbins, from the route that Mr Obama was scheduled to take, were removed as a safety precaution. But the municipality also revoked the holidays of 1,600 cleaners to keep the streets spotless, especially after the festival's fireworks displays.

And while Mr Obama's visit was gave a big business, some small businessmen said his visit dealt their trade a blow.

"He should have come before or after, not during Diwali," said Mohammed Shamim, a taxi driver in the Colaba area, where the president is staying.

"Because of him, business is not only at a loss, it is a disaster. There are no tourists in the hotels. All the roads are closed and the locals are not venturing this way to celebrate Diwali," Mr Shamim said.

Beggars and hawkers, who usually sell souvenirs around near the Taj Mahal hotel, have been cleared and the roads blocked.

"Even the police are complaining that they cannot celebrate Diwali with their families because of this visit," Mr Shamim said.

Jamal Shaik, who runs a cart that sells kebab rolls behind the hotel to late-night revelers, has also been shut down until tomorrow.

"Of course there will be loss," Mr Shaik said. "But it is loss for everyone and they are all suffering like us. And we must do this for our country. For the security of the American president."

Neha Bedi, 27, who works at a design firm, lives in Colaba and her offices are in the neighbourhood of the Taj hotel. She said the police warned residents not to burst firecrackers after 10pm on Friday, a day before the president arrived, and yesterday.

"The younger kids are heartbroken," she said. "Now, thanks to Obama, you cannot burst firecrackers."

Today the president and the first lady will celebrate Diwali with children from the Holy Name School in Colaba, followed by a meeting with students from St Xavier's college where he will speak about the importance of democracy.

The Obamas leave for Delhi in the afternoon. Tomorrow, Mr Obama is scheduled to meet the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and address parliament.