WASHINGTON: The United States said it was ending export restrictions for India’s defense and space industries, eyeing trade with a nation shunned for more than a decade over its nuclear weapons program.
President Barack Obama’s administration also said it would welcome India into the club of nations that regulate export controls, bringing New Delhi full circle from an outcast to a member of international weapons controls.
The United States took major groups off a blacklist, including the Indian Space Research Organization, which leads India’s space program, and the weapon-designing Defense Research and Development Organization.
Previously, the United States barred exports to the organizations of material and technology that could have military use.
“These actions will open important new opportunities for our companies and governments on cooperating in the defense and space areas,” said Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia.
Blake, speaking Tuesday at Syracuse University in New York, said the United States would also support India’s full membership in four groups that control exports including the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Obama announced on a visit to India in November that he was easing the restrictions, but he did not provide details at the time.
The United States and its allies slapped sanctions on India in 1998 after New Delhi shocked the world with nuclear tests. India’s historic rival Pakistan carried out its own tests days afterward.
But the United States soon reconciled with India. Former president George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a deal in 2008 to cooperate on nuclear energy, despite India’s refusal to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The United States hopes that the agreement will allow its companies to cash in as India ramps up nuclear power to provide for a fast-growing economy.
The United States is also bidding to sell India weapons as it modernizes its military, particularly its aging air force.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who called the easing of restrictions “a significant milestone in reinforcing the US-India strategic partnership,” plans to head to India in early February to promote high-tech trade.
He will be accompanied by 24 companies include the Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Westinghouse Electric Co., according to the Commerce Department.
China has also asked the United States to ease restrictions on high-tech imports, but the United States has been concerned about Beijing’s economic policies and the theft of intellectual property.
Blake recommitted the United States to supporting a global role for India, but said: “It is clear that building a strong economic plank is necessary in building a strategic partnership for the future.”
Blake said he was “encouraged” by signs that India will expand access to its retail sector.
“I hope that the government realizes that further openings, such as in agriculture and defense sectors, would benefit Indian consumers and its economy,” he said.
Big-box US retailers such as Walmart want India to ease rules that require them to partner with local firms, but many of the country’s ubiquitous small shops fear they will be put out of business.