Ahead of India visit, Trump says ‘will make a ‘tremendous deal’ but remains non-committal on timing

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Published: February 22, 2020 6:30:04 AM

The US has long been critical of India’s IPR regime, even though New Delhi has consistently maintained that its policies are fully compliant with the WTO standards.

US President Donald Trump , donald trumpUS President Donald Trump

Days before his maiden visit to India next week, US President Donald Trump has complained that New Delhi has been hitting Washington “very hard” for many years with high tariffs and that he would “talk business” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While Trump asserted that the two countries could hammer out a “tremendous” trade agreement, he sought to temper expectations of a pact during his India visit next week. In fact, he hinted that talks might even hit a rough patch if he did not get a good deal. Nevertheless, both the countries are expected to seal five deals cutting across sectors, including defence, intellectual property rights and trade facilitation, to boost bilateral co-operation.

Trump and his wife Melania are scheduled to travel to Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi on February 24 and 25. Already, persisting differences on sticky issues – including Washington’s demand for a greater access to agriculture, dairy and ICT sectors, have cast a shadow over the prospect of a limited trade deal during Trump’s visit. Indian officials maintain that the ball is in the US court now, as New Delhi has made meaningful concessions to the US on access in agriculture and medical equipment, lower tariffs on motorcycles like Harley Davidson and even chicken legs. However, both the countries might explore the feasibility of a full-fledged free trade agreement even if a limited deal didn’t fructify now, sources had earlier indicated.

 

In his commencement address at the Hope for Prisoners Graduation Ceremony in Las Vegas on Thursday, Trump said: “We’re going to India, and we may make a tremendous deal there.”

“Maybe we’ll slow down. We’ll do it after the election. I think that could happen too. So, we’ll see what happens. But we’re only making deals if they’re good deals because we’re putting America first,” Trump said. He is seeking re-election in the November presidential polls.

As for agreements in defence and other sectors, the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security has already cleared two big ticket deals — one on procuring 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters at a cost of $2.6 billion and six AH-64E Apache helicopters for $800 million from the US. Both these deals will likely be signed during Trump’s visit. Similarly, the Cabinet on Wednesday cleared a proposal to sign an initial agreement with the US on IPR.

The US has long been critical of India’s IPR regime, even though New Delhi has consistently maintained that its policies are fully compliant with the WTO standards. The US has retained India on its priority watch list in its annual Special 301 report.

Trump had earlier called India the “tariff king” and particularly highlighted the “high” 50% duties on Harley Davidson motorcycles. US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross also criticised India last year for imposing “not justified” tariff on ICT products (20%), motorcycles (50%), automobiles (60%) and alcoholic beverages (150%), even though the US itself slaps 350% on tobacco, 163.8% on peanuts, 48% on footwear and 38% on glassware for toilet.

Separately, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar has said improving counter-terror cooperation, deepening engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, augmenting defence and trade ties and addressing India’s concerns over H1B visas may feature in talks between Trump and Modi.

On trade deal, multiple rounds of talks have taken place between the two sides for months now. Commerce minister Piyush Goyal held talks with US trade representative Robert Lighthizer at Davos last month and spoke over phone earlier this month in a bid to help seal a deal during Trump’s visit.

India is demanding exemption from high duties imposed by the US on certain steel and aluminium products, resumption of export benefits to some domestic products under their Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), greater market access for its products from sectors including agriculture, automobile, auto components and engineering.

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