WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (AFP): US President George W Bush's visit to India and Pakistan this week could help clear major hurdles to American expansion of investment and trade ties with the South Asian nations.
Bush, who departs Washington Tuesday for New Delhi, is scheduled to meet with chief executives of top American and Indian firms in the Indian capital to hear from them directly the bottlenecks impeding business ties.
The "US-India CEO Forum," launched during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington last July, has prepared a set of reform proposals to be handed over to the two governments during Bush's visit, officials said.
"This will give the president an opportunity to hear from these business leaders in India, and they will provide to the two leaders and to their governments ideas on how to further expand trade and investment between the United States and India," said Bush's National Security Advisor Steve Hadley.
US-India economic ties are growing rapidly.
Last year, US exports to India jumped by more than 30 per cent compared with 20 per cent growth in Indian exports to the United States.
Bilateral merchandise trade amounted to nearly 27 billion dollars, seen by officials as way below the potential of the two large economies.
A civilian nuclear deal, which Bush wants sealed with India, itself is expected to open up potential deals worth 20 billion dollars, said Rick Rossow, director of the US-India Business Council in Washington.
While the United States expands economies ties, it is cautious at home where unemployed Americans are frustrated over the rapid outflow of jobs to India, which is attracting US industries with its low costs and highly educated, English-speaking workforce.
Bush emphasised the point while previewing his South Asian trip last week.
"Losing a job is traumatic. But rather than respond with protectionist policies, I believe it makes sense to respond with educational polices to make sure that our workers are skilled for the jobs of the 21st century," he said.
Bush then urged Americans to also recognize that India's rapid economic growth was creating new opportunities for US businesses and farmers and workers.
"India's middle class is now estimated at 300 million people. Think about that. That's greater than the entire population of the United States," he said, pointing out that the Indians are buying air-conditioners, kitchen appliances, and washing machines mostly from American companies.
In Islamabad, Bush will discuss with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a key bilateral investment treaty aimed largely at protecting US investors establishing businesses in Pakistan, officials said.