New Delhi: After US President Donald Trump said that he was “saving the big deal” for later, Indian government sources confirmed that there would not be a substantial trade package as both sides “don’t want to rush” into making announcement during Trump’s forthcoming trade visit to India.
On Tuesday afternoon, at Joint Base Andrews, Trump had told reporters:
“We can have a trade deal with India. But I’m really saving the big deal for later”.
He was answering a question on the intense media speculation that the main takeaway from the visit would be a lucrative trade package announcement of some sort.
In Delhi, Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla gave an overview of the visit and said it would be “brief but intense”. Trump will be in India for fewer than 36 hours during which he will be in Ahmedabad for a public reception, visit Taj Mahal at Agra and hold formal discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
In the last two decades, there have been five presidential visits from US to India. This will, however, be the first standalone trip by a US President to New Delhi.
Shringla noted that trade with United States, India’s sixth largest trading partner in goods and services, will reach $150 billion for the first time this year. He also underlined that India was importing hydrocarbon resources from the US worth $7 billion.
There was no public response from the Indian government on Trump’s indication that there was no trade deal in the offing.
However, government sources confirmed that no major trade announcements were likely to be made during the visit.
“In recent months, exchanges have intensified. Union commerce minister Piyush Goyal and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have also developed a good rapport with each other,” the sources said.
Since the two countries want a deal with the “right balance”, “both Goyal and USTR Lighthizer mutually agreed that they don’t want to rush into a deal”.
The sources also stated that India was seeking restoration privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) that was withdrawn last year. While the impact of GSP on Indian exports to US have not been negative, it was one of the “priority” areas for New Delhi.
They added that India’s relationship with US was “not necessarily transactional”. Both Modi and Trump have met five times in last eight months and it was “not necessary” to have a ‘big ticket’ announcement whenever they have their meeting, said sources.
The summit-level meetings are largely to “reinforce the ongoing cooperation” and “catalyse relationship”, they asserted.
Rather, India is pegging the success of a visit by the US President on the scale of the public events. “It will be the largest and biggest visit that has ever happened. Anywhere in the world.”
Government sources said that Trump would be addressing the largest crowd ever for a foreign leader in India. “This is about building a people-to-people relationship”.
On landing at Ahmedabad at around noon on February 24, the US President will take a route to Motera stadium, which will be marked by cultural troupes to showcase Indian diversity.
The US president had claimed that the Indian PM had said that there will be seven million people on the roads to cheer him from the airport to the stadium. Sources stated that there “is always a confusion between lakhs and millions”.
Trump and his wife, Melania, will travel to Agra to spend one hour at the Taj Mahal just before sunset, before leaving for New Delhi. Next day, both leaders will meet and hold formal talks at Hyderabad House, with PM Modi hosting him for lunch. Later in the evening, a state banquet will be held at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
At the end of the visit, sources said there would be a “fairly comprehensive joint statement” that will be “forward-looking and encompass the close and important relationship that we have forged”. The statement will have a substantive section related to the Indo-Pacific.
Meanwhile, India does not think that US President’s remarks on Kashmir, on which he had offered mediation, would figure in the discussions. “I don’t think it will come up in any of our talks,” said a highly-placed government source.