WASHINGTON Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said on Thursday he will press India to buy U.S. fighter jets and other advanced technology products when he leads Boeing, Lockheed Martin and 22 other U.S. companies on a trade mission next week.
The trip, which follows President Barack Obama's visit to India in November, "underscores the importance we attach to the commercial relationship between our two countries," Locke told reporters during a briefing.
The two dozen U.S. companies also include GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Westinghouse Electric Company, which is a division of Toshiba Corp, Transco Products, NuScale Power and Exelon Nuclear Partners, which hope to capitalize on a landmark U.S.-India civil nuclear deal signed in 2008.
The trade mission comes on the heels of last week's announcement that the United States was easing restrictions on exports of high-technology goods to India in recognition of stronger economic and national security ties.
"That export control announcement has really opened the door for increased high-technology trade and cooperation between the United States and India. The purpose is our trade mission ... is to take advantage of that open door," Locke said.
A key stop comes on Tuesday at the Aero India show, where Boeing, Lockheed and other military aircraft manufacturers from around the world will show off their latest wares.
India is looking to spend more than $50 billion over the next five years to modernize its armed forces, including $11 billion to buy 126 new fighter jets.
Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed's F-16 are competing for the fighter jet deal with France's Dassault Rafale, Russia's MiG-35, Sweden's Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, produced by a consortium of European companies.
Locke said it was "a high priority" for the U.S. government for India to buy the planes from the United States, but added he would be pushing for other U.S. military and civil aviation sales at the aerospace show.
The trade delegation will travel on Wednesday to Bangalore, where Locke will visit the Indian Space Research Organization in a show of U.S. interest in boosting sales to India's space technology sector.
A two-day stop in Mumbai beginning on Thursday includes talks with Indian software and other industry officials and meetings with India's Department of Atomic Energy and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen)