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No trade deal with US during Trump visit as India doesn’t want to rush into one

Government officials say it would be incorrect to say the India-US trade deal is ‘stuck’, calling it an ‘ongoing process’ between the partners.

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New Delhi: There will be no India-US trade deal, even a small or limited one, as New Delhi is not keen on “compromising” or “rushing into a deal” that will prove to be detrimental in the long run, government sources told ThePrint four days before US President Donald Trump is set to land on his maiden visit to India.

“We don’t want to rush into a trade deal. Trade issues are complicated. We are not in a hurry to rush into a trade deal that has potential implications on people’s lives and also has a long-term impact. We are still facing the issues arising out of the FTAs (free trade agreements) we had in 2010 and 2011,” said a top government source, on the condition of anonymity.

However, the source also said it would be incorrect to say that the deal is “stuck”, adding that it is an “ongoing process” and that both the US and India “want to be FTA partners”.

President Trump said earlier this week that he is “saving the big deal for later on”.

“We are doing a very big trade deal with India. We’ll have it. I don’t know if it’ll be done before the (US election in November), but we’ll have a very big deal with India,” he had said.

Trump had also said the US is “not being treated very well by India”, which government sources said refers to the fact that India and America have not been able to come to a consensus on the tariff that New Delhi continues to apply on American goods.

According to sources, the issue of tariffs will have to be seen in the context of the fact that India is a developing country.

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla pointed out at a press conference Wednesday that the US is India’s largest trading partner in terms of goods and services combined.

“The overall bilateral trade increased by over 10 per cent per annum over the past two years to reach $142 billion in 2018. It is expected to cross $150 billion for the first time this year. It is now also our 6th largest source of crude oil imports, with hydrocarbon imports rising to $7 billion in the last two years,” said Shringla, India’s former ambassador to the US.

Also read: When Trump visits, US and India must not get distracted by Pakistan & trade

USTR could be part of delegation

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was to visit India earlier this month, may now be part of Trump’s high-powered delegation.

Apart from the USTR, Trump’s delegation might include Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Presidential Advisor Jared Kushner (also Trump’s son-in-law), among others.

Sources said in terms of deliverables, there will be announcements of greater cooperation in defence and security, the Indo-Pacific initiative, joint collaboration in defence technologies and energy cooperation.

Sources also said efforts are being made to put in the joint statement that both sides are willing to launch negotiations for a proposed US-India Free Trade Agreement. The joint statement will be issued post President Trump’s bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi on 25 February in New Delhi.

In terms of defence cooperation, sources said, India and the US may sign a $2.6 billion deal to procure 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ Seahawk helicopters, which was finalised last December during the US-India ‘2+2 dialogue’. The Modi cabinet cleared the deal Wednesday.

According to Shringla, defence trade between India and the US has reached $18 billion.

“We have procured over $18 billion worth of defence items from the US, which have enhanced our defence preparedness significantly,” he said.

Also read: Trump visiting India when Chinese economy is down. Modi govt must seize trade opportunities

‘Kashmir mediation issue is behind us’

On the issue that President Trump might once again seek to “mediate” between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, sources said India has already stated its position clearly to the US —that it is not an acceptable proposition.

“This matter (Kashmir) is now behind us… We’ve come a long way from the time we’ve been negotiating with the US Congress with what we’ve done on 5 August (with the scrapping of Article 370). What matters now is that due to the security measures taken by us, not a single life has been lost. We have taken great care in maintaining peace there,” the top source quoted above said.

US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster was part of the first batch of foreign envoys to visit Jammu and Kashmir post the 5 August move. After his visit, the US State Department had issued a statement expressing concerns over the restrictions and detention of local political leaders.

‘Namaste Trump’ to be similar to ‘Howdy, Modi!’

President Trump and Prime Minister Modi will be jointly addressing a gala event similar to what was witnessed in Houston, Texas, last year.

The event will be called ‘Namaste Trump’, and will be held at the newly-built Motera Cricket Stadium in Ahmedabad, Shringla said.

“This will be the first event in the newly built Motera Stadium, which is the largest cricket stadium in the world… The route of their travel to the stadium is expected to have tens of thousands of ordinary citizens of India as well as artistes showcasing performing arts from different states and Union Territories of India,” he added.

As many as 28 stages representing the various parts of the country are being set up along the route, in what is being called the India Road Show, he said.

Also read: Will the spectacle of Trump visit without a trade deal boost India-US ties?


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