Diplomacy

After the Midterm Elections, an Indian Road Trip


Just four days after a probable Democratic setback in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama will gas up Air Force One for an 8,000-mile trip to India, the first leg of a four-nation tour. He will reinforce ties with Muslim Indonesia, enlist South Korea and Japan to the American side of the currency debate with China, and strengthen diplomatic and economic ties with India.

Obama, who has been seen as hostile to business in polls of executives and investors, has a golden opportunity to promote U.S. corporate interests in India and show how business-friendly and job-focused he can be. While in Mumbai—his first stop—the President will attend a summit of American and Indian chief executive officers. The American C-suite elite will be there in force. Attendees include Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric (GE), Jim McNerney of Boeing (BA), David Cote of Honeywell International (HON), and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo (PEP). They all put India high on their list of target markets.

With Obama in attendance, Indian companies and ministries will probably ink a half a dozen deals with U.S. outfits, some of them months in the making. There's a $4.5 billion order for Boeing C-17 transports, says Ron Somers, president of the U.S.-India Business Council. He says the Indians may announce a $4 billion contract for either GE or Caterpillar (CAT) to supply diesel locomotives.

While it's not clear that Obama will have to step into any last-minute negotiating glitches, his presence helps. "When a Cabinet official—or even better, a President—shows up, everybody knows that's the time to get the deal done," says William A. Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council in Washington.

The bottom line: President Obama will travel to India after the midterms. The trip gives him a chance to help U.S. companies land important contracts.

Nichols is a reporter for Bloomberg News in Washington.

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