Business chiefs hitch a ride to India with President Obama

January 23, 2015, 8:49 PM UTC
President Obama Meets With Prime Minister Narendra Modi Of India At The White House
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office of the White House September 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. The two leaders met to discuss the U.S.-India strategic partnership and mutual interest issues. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photograph by Alex Wong—Getty Images

When President Obama flies off to India this weekend for a historic second trip to the newly-arrived economic giant, he’ll have a blue-chip roster of CEOs in tow.

The delegation of business chiefs so far includes Ajay Banga of Mastercard (MA), Dave Cote of Honeywell (HON), Bob Iger of Disney (DIS), Indra Nooyi of Pepsi (PEP), Arne Sorenson of Marriott (MAR), and Vivek Ranadive of Tibco (TIBX), Fortune has learned.

Officially, Obama is traveling to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations as the guest of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (the President even scrambled scheduling of his State of the Union address to accommodate his attendance). But the presence of the corporate captains the White House hustled to recruit for the mission indicates the economic stakes. Warming diplomatic ties between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest are encouraging American companies seeking expanded access to India’s $2 trillion economy.

Modi is pushing to make his country friendlier to foreign investment with new incentives and regulatory reforms. He unveiled a “Make in India” campaign in September aimed at promoting the country as a manufacturing haven. And the US and India are chasing a five-fold increase in bilateral trade, to $500 billion, by 2020.

Yet policy hurdles remain — on immigration, trade, intellectual property, and climate change, among others.

Those will be grist for a pair of meetings the American CEOs are slated to hold with leading Indian executives on their visit. The US-India CEO Forum, a government-appointed group co-chaired by Cote and Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, will host the first huddle. (That group was organized around Obama’s first visit to India, in 2010, but one source familiar with it described it as “dormant” in recent years.) Then Obama and Modi will join the chiefs for another organized by the US-India Business Council, a lobby promoting economic cooperation.

The countries are also looking to strengthen defense ties, though it’s not yet clear whether they will announce any procurement deals on this visit.