Barack Obama cited the economic challenge of countries like India as the main reason the United States needed to look beyond its present recession and invest in its future.
<b1>“How long should America put its future on hold?” the US President said, noting that countries like India, China and Germany were “not standing still.”
He used his warning of rising economic competition to argue the case for financial reforms, ensuring US innovation in clean energy, increasing exports and improving the educational system.
This is the first time India has been mentioned as an economic challenge in a US State of the Union address. The last time India was cited was in 2002 — when George W Bush invoked it as an ally against terrorism.
“China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting,” Obama said. “They are putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clear energy because they want those jobs.”
These nations were not playing for second place, Obama warned, adding: “Well, I do not accept second place for the United State.”
His speech was overwhelmingly about the economy and jobs. The opposition Republicans have inflicted major local electoral reverses on the Democrats in recent months. The killer issue: a stubborn 10 per cent unemployment rate. “Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010,” Obama said.
The US leader seemed to take a swipe at outsourcing too saying, “It is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas.”
NASSCOM was quick to respond, saying that outsourcing was not the target. “This is about US companies operating in regions where they get tax benefits,” it said. Indian corporate tax rates are comparable to those in the US.
Though foreign policy was relegated to the end of the speech, Obama threw up some issues that will concern New Delhi.
First, he explicitly spoke of bringing back US troops from Afghanistan starting July next year. India sees any US withdrawal from Afghanistan — that may allow the Taliban to takeover — as inimical to its interests.
Second, Obama promised to pass a US climate change bill. This is likely to result in renewed pressure from the West on countries like India and China to fix carbon emission targets, a move they are presently resisting.
Finally, Obama again committed himself to launching a worldwide programme to secure nuclear materials worldwide.
Though this has yet to be fleshed out, India will watch to see if this policy will include finalizing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty.