Five reasons Indian Prime Minister Modi's dinner with Obama matters

When President Obama welcomes new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House for a private dinner Monday night, it will be more than US amends for having denied Mr. Modi a visa (and maintaining the ban for nearly a decade) over his handling of sectarian riots in India’s Gujarat state in 2002 when he was chief minister.

It represents an opportunity for both Modi and Mr. Obama to address – and they hope, advance – key issues to both countries. Here are five of those issues:

1. Economic relations

Richard Drew/AP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York Saturday.

Clearly America is interested in doing business with India – and Modi is on a mission to build “brand India” globally, international economics experts say. Modi comes to Washington after spending several days in New York, where he had breakfast with top US business executives and then sat down one-on-one with a stream of CEOs of companies ranging from Boeing to General Electric.

But a new era for US-India economic ties has been heralded before – indeed, Obama held his administration’s first state dinner for India’s previous prime minister, Manmohan Singh, in November 2009. A bright business horizon for the two countries was touted then, too – only to deflate like an untied balloon.

A historic US-India civilian nuclear agreement reached between the two countries under President George W. Bush was supposed to be the spearhead of new US investment in India – until it was done in by nationalist Indian nuclear power legislation. Nationalist suspicions in India have also dampened prospects for a bilateral investment treaty that both countries at least claim is a goal.

India is viewed in the US as overly protectionist (repeatedly playing the spoiler in global trade talks) and woefully bureaucratic. But at the same time the US arguably has the best relations and closest affinity with India of any of the BRICS – the large emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – so India offers Obama a means of reviving the “Asia pivot” he’s called for since taking office.

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