US President Donald Trump kept everyone guessing on the much-anticipated trade deal with India as he flip-flopped on the issue through the day, ahead of his India visit next week.
Speaking in Las Vegas, Trump hinted that a “tremendous deal” might be achieved during his maiden visit to India. However, political pundits were left baffled by his choice of words. “Maybe we’ll slow down. We’ll do it after the (US presidential) election. I think that could happen too. So, we'll see what happens,” PTI reported Trump as saying.
Later in the day at a political rally in Colorado, he adopted a harder stance, accusing India of hitting the US “very hard” with high tariffs for many years. Trump said he would “talk business” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promote American products. “We’ve got to talk a little...We’ve got to talk a little business. It’s been hitting us hard. They give us tariffs, one of the highest in the world,” he said.
Trump’s latest comments came a day after the Ministry of External Affairs said India would continue to discuss trade issues with the US and not rush the already contentious negotiations.
On Wednesday, the US president had said a comprehensive trade agreement with India would take much longer to finalise.
The Indian government indicated that the talks would now mostly focus on boosting defence cooperation, expanding the engagement between both nations in the Indo-Pacific region, and India’s concerns over the H1B visa issue.
Trump has called India a “tariff king” multiple times, blaming “unfair market access policies” for stifling the growth of American goods like Harley-Davidson motorcycles and high-value electronic products, among others.
On Thursday, he also spoke about the grand welcome he was expected to get in the country. “I hear they are going to have 10 million people. They say anywhere from six to 10
million people are going to be showing up along the route to one of the largest stadiums in the world, the largest cricket stadium in the world, which is brand new and beautiful,” Trump said.
He said the "Namaste Trump" rally in Ahmedabad would spoil him.
"Prime Minister Modi said, we will have 10 million people greet you. Here's my problem. We have a packed house. We have a lot of people, thousands of people that couldn't get in. It's going to look like peanuts from now on," he said. "I'll never be satisfied with the crowd. If we have 10 million people in India, how can I be satisfied when we fill up like a 60,000-seat stadium? I am getting spoiled," Trump said.
He is scheduled to travel to Ahmedabad, Agra, and New Delhi on February 24-25.
Senior Indian officials say India is now hoping to sign a smaller pact focusing on agriculture goods.
“The US wants a big deal which can match the one signed with China earlier this year to slowly wind down the trade war. But the sudden cancellation of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s visit to New Delhi as part of the vanguard negotiations team has almost shut down the talks,” an official said.
Lighthizer, considered Trump's point man on trade, was responsible for shutting down the vast majority of India's export promotion schemes last year after a sustained fight at the World Trade Organization.
With inputs from PTI