Trade deal with U.S. delayed, not stuck, says government

Trade deal with U.S. delayed, not stuck, says government

Points to grand scale of Trump-Modi Motera rally as the key deliverable of the visit.

An India-U.S. trade deal has been delayed, but is not “stuck”, said the government on February 19, hours after President Donald Trump confirmed that negotiations will not be completed in time for his visit next week. However, government sources said expectations on trade must not overshadow the larger context of the visit, which will be a massive roadshow for Mr. Trump and his wife Melania Trump along the way from the Ahmedabad airport to the Motera Stadium as well as a joint rally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the stadium (billed as the world’s biggest cricket stadium), which is the “key deliverable” of the visit.

“From the moment of their arrival at the airport, [Mr. and Mrs. Trump] will be treated to a display of famed Indian hospitality and India’s Unity in Diversity,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla told media persons.

‘Big deal later’

Speaking in Washington DC, Mr. Trump spoke in a similar vein. “We can have a trade deal with India but I am saving the big deal for later on. We’re doing a very big trade deal with India…we’ll have it. I don’t know if it’ll be done before the elections but we’ll have a very big deal with India,” he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon at the Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, before he flew to California.

The comments come days after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer cancelled a trip to India — as reported in The Hindu — to finalise a mini-trade deal that the two countries were hoping to finalise during the visit.

“We’re not treated very well by India but I happen to like Prime Minister Modi a lot. And he told me we’ll have seven million people between the airport and the event. And the stadium, I understand, is sort of semi under-construction but it’s going to be the largest stadium in the world. So it’s going to be very exciting,” Mr. Trump said.

Performing arts

“The route of their travel to the stadium is expected to have tens of thousands of ordinary citizens as well as artistes showcasing the performing arts from different States and Union Territories,” he said, adding that Mr. Trump’s motorcade would pass through an “India roadshow” along the way, with 28 stages representing various parts of the country put on display.

The figures represent a considerable contrast to the U.S. President’s repeated reference to crowds of “7 million” (70 lakh) that he expects will come out to greet him, but the government feels that rather than the figure being taken literally, the “spirit” of the grandness of the event is important.

On trade, the government conceded that talks between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal had not been able to conclude even a “mini-deal” yet, but held out the hope that Mr. Lightizer, who cancelled his visit last week might still travel as a part of Mr. Trump’s delegation., and also held out the possibility that talks on a free trade agreement (FTA) will soon begin. Among other senior officials who may travel are Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and advisor and son-in-law to the President Jared Kushner.

Mr. Trump will be the eighth American President to visit India since Independence, and the fifth to visit in the last two decades, when the bilateral ties were reset. This will be the first-ever “standalone” visit by a U.S. President, as Mr. Trump is expected to travel directly to Delhi on February 23 from Washington, with a stopover at the U.S. Ramstein Base in Germany, and fly back the same route on February 25 night.

The 36-hour visit to India will begin on February 24 when Air Force One touches down in Ahmedabad and the Presidential couple will then fly to Agra to see the Taj at sunset, before flying into Delhi. On February 25, Mr. Trump will hold talks with Mr. Modi and have lunch with him before releasing a comprehensive joint statement. Both are expected to address business delegations in the afternoon and the Trumps will attend a banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan before flying out on February 25 night.

“This will be President Trump’s 5th meeting with Prime Minister Modi in 8 months [after Osaka, BiarritzHouston, New York] — reflecting the renewed intensity of high-level bilateral engagement since the NDA Government returned to power,” Mr. Shringla who, as former Ambassador to the U.S., was responsible for organising those meetings, said. He called the relationship with the U.S. as one of India’s “most consequential relationships” today. “It is a strategic partnership based on shared values and geared towards the 21st century. Whether in countering terrorism or in ensuring a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific, India and the U.S. have unprecedented convergence of interests,” he noted.

Government sources indicated that the Trump visit would see the announcement of several defence purchases as well as a “joint vision statement for the Indo-Pacific”, which will upgrade the previous 2015 statement on maritime security.

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