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Obama in India: Serious business

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
Flip-flops featuring the image of U.S. President Barrack Obama are displayed outside a shoe store in Mumbai.
Flip-flops featuring the image of U.S. President Barrack Obama are displayed outside a shoe store in Mumbai.
  • India is Asia's third largest economy behind China and Japan
  • Obama will attend a business summit the first day of his visit
  • U.S. exports to the U.S. have quadrupled to $17 billion
  • White House: Trade agreements could create U.S. jobs

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- As Asia's third largest economy and one of the world's fastest growing markets, India is placed high on Obama's goal list to build what he calls a "defining" partnership.

On his first day in Mumbai, Obama is scheduled to attend a business summit focusing on the economic ties between the two nations.

India has emerged as a thriving market for U.S. exports. Goods exports from the United States have quadrupled to about $17 billion over the last seven years and service exports tripled to about $10 billion annually, officials say.

The U.S. India Business Council, sponsor of the business summit that Obama will attend, released a report, "Partners in Prosperity," which delineates five areas of closer economic and strategic cooperation: Defense sales, agriculture, education, infrastructure development and steps toward a free trade agreement between the two nations.

Harley Davidson in India
  • India
  • Barack Obama

"As you all know, with 1.2 billion people and an economy growing -- expected to grow at 8 percent a year for the next several years, we really see India as a potentially very important market for U.S. exports," Mike Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs, told reporters in Washington.

"In India, for example, there will be discussion about economic issues between the two countries, some of which could be resolved, some of which will take longer to resolve," Froman said. "But there also will be discussion of various commercial contracts that we hope to bring to fruition between now and the president's trip that are immediate and will create jobs back here at home right away and expand U.S. exports."

Uday Bhaskar, director of the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi, said Obama's tour holds the promise of a longstanding, broader cooperation.

"There indeed is such potential to tap, which goes well beyond the tenures of President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," he said. "The real big-ticket issue which goes beyond the tenures of individual leaders would be India and the U.S. working jointly toward elimination of nuclear weapons and something as tectonic as commercial viability of solar energy."

The presidential visit, Bhaskar added, can also help balance regional geopolitics in the face of what is now seen as an increasingly assertive China.

In October, the Chinese and Indian prime ministers met in Vietnam in a bid to ease growing tensions despite flourishing trade between the two neighbors.

China's support to Pakistan, India's accommodation of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, and a decades-old border dispute between the two sides, are points of friction as the economic powerhouses jockey for influence in the region.

"Asia is a very complex construct. An Asia that is uni-polar is in nobody's interest. I think we need a certain degree of equi-poise ? by which I mean a more balanced strategic eco-system in Asia. My personal feeling is that this visit can introduce that," Bhaskar said.

"Basically, a more enabled India would make the management of China in the regional grid more conducive to both the United States and India. This could be an objective of the upcoming Obama-Singh summit," he said.