President Donald Trump, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, will visit India on February 24-25, 2020, with trips to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and New Delhi, the White House confirmed last week.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in Washington, DC, on February 10, 2020, that “The President and The First Lady will travel to New Delhi and Ahmedabad, which is in Prime Minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat and played such an important role in Mahatma Gandhi’s life and leadership of the Indian independence movement.”
Grisham added: “During a phone call over the weekend, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi agreed the trip will further strengthen the United States-India strategic partnership and highlight the strong and enduring bonds between the American and Indian people.”
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Extremely delighted that @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS will visit India on 24th and 25th February. India will accord a memorable welcome to our esteemed guests. This visit is a very special one and it will go a long way in further cementing India-USA friendship.”
The First Lady responded to the news of the upcoming trip to India in a tweet: “Thank you @narendramodi for the kind invitation. Looking forward to visiting Ahmedabad & New Dehli later this month. @POTUS & I are excited for the trip & to celebrate the close ties between the #USA & #India.”
While official talks revolving around trade and other issues will be held in New Delhi, the highlight of the trip will be a massive public rally-like event on the first day of the visit, to be held at the at the newly constructed Sardar Vallabhai Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, touted as the largest cricket stadium in the world, with a sitting capacity of more than 110,000 people.
The event in Ahmedabad, entitled ‘Kem Cho Trump’, will be on a much larger scale than the much publicized ‘Howdy Modi’ event held in Houston, Texas, in September of last year, which drew around 60,000 people at the NRG Stadium. ‘Kem Cho’ in Gujarati is a literal translation of ‘Howdy’.
Reports in Indian media said that some 125,000 people would fill up the cricket stadium for the event. It will in all likelihood be a spectacular event, that is sure to dazzle audiences not just in the city and elsewhere in India, but TV watchers here in the US too, who are not used to seeing such massive crowds even at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, prior to the Presidential elections.
Trump and the First Lady will depart for New Delhi on the evening of February 24, 2020. There is no word as yet if they will be making a short trip to see the Taj Mahal. While it is a first visit to India for the First Lady, the President has visited India in the past in his personal capacity, for expanding his Trump line of hotels.
Once the spectacle in Ahmedabad is over, Indian and US officials will be hard at work to work out a trade treaty in New Delhi that Trump and Modi would be happy to sign, and be considered as a ‘win-win’ for both nations.
Trump said last Tuesday he would sign a trade deal with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi if it was the right one.
India and the US have been trying to reach a limited trade pact with lower tariffs, but talks have run into problems over issues with data privacy and e-commerce controls.
With only days left for the trip to commence, India has been steadily more generous in their approach to the trade conflict. India has now offered to partially open up its poultry and dairy markets to win a limited trade deal during Trump’s .
India, the world’s largest milk-producing nation, has traditionally restricted dairy imports to protect the livelihoods of 80 million rural households involved in the industry, reported Reuters. But Modi is trying to pull all the stops for the U.S. president’s visit, aimed at rebuilding bonds between the world’s largest democracies.
In 2019, Trump suspended India’s special trade designation that dated back to 1970s, after Modi put price caps on medical devices, such as cardiac stents and knee implants, and introduced new data localization requirements and e-commerce restrictions.
Trump’s trip to India has raised hopes that he would restore some of the country’s U.S. trade preferences, in exchange for tariff reductions and other concessions.
The United States is India’s second-largest trade partner after China, and bilateral goods and services trade climbed to a record $142.6 billion in 2018. The United States had a $23.2 billion goods trade deficit in 2019 with India, its 9th largest trading partner in goods.
India has offered to allow imports of U.S. chicken legs, turkey and produce such as blueberries and cherries, Indian government sources said, and has offered to cut tariffs on chicken legs from 100% to 25%. U.S. negotiators want that tariff cut to 10%. The Modi government is also offering to open up India’s dairy market, but with quotas and a 5% tariff on some products, the sources said, Reuters reported.
Dairy imports will need a certificate they are not derived from animals that have consumed feeds that include internal organs, blood meal or tissues of ruminants.
New Delhi has also agreed to lower 50% tariffs on very large motorcycles made by Harley-Davidson, a tax that was a particular irritant for Trump. The change would be largely symbolic because few such motorcycles are sold in India.
Trump will be feted in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, then hold talks in New Delhi and attend a reception that the hosts have promised will be bigger than the one organised for former president Barack Obama in 2015.
Trump has called India the “tariff king.” The country has an average tariff rate of 17.% compared with 3.4% for the United States, according to World Trade Organization data.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer held telephone conversations with India Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal this week about a trade agreement, and signs are positive.
“As of now it looks like there will be a deal. All indications are we are closing in,” said a source briefed on the talks. A USTR spokesman and India’s trade ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
PRIVACY LAW COMPLICATIONS
An Indian parliament panel is reviewing a draft data privacy law that imposes stringent controls over cross-border data flows and gives the government powers to seek user data from companies.
It is not clear whether it will be passed, or in what form, but the possibilities have unnerved U.S. companies and could raise compliance requirements for Google, Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook.
The draft law is not part of the trade discussions, Indian officials say, because the issue is too difficult to resolve at the same time.
“The privacy and localization piece will be raised independently and in concert with the trade discussions,” said a Washington-based source with knowledge of the U.S. administration’s thinking.
Trump on Tuesday was non-committal about sealing a trade deal before his visit. “If we can make the right deal, we’ll do it,” he told reporters.
Two U.S. sources said progress had been made on proposed alterations to the medical device price caps. India’s new import tariffs on medical devices, walnuts, toys, electronics and other products on Feb. 1 surprised U.S. negotiators, however..
The new tariffs were aimed at China, which also makes medical devices, according to an Indian government source. “We have to protect our market and our companies,” the source said.
Ahead of Trump’s visit, India is also set to give final approval to a $2.6 billion deal for military helicopters from U.S. defence firm Lockheed Martin, defence and industry sources said, reported Reuters.
India’s defence purchases from the United States have reached $17 billion since 2007 as it has pivoted away from traditional supplier Russia, looking to modernize its military and narrow the gap with China.
Modi’s cabinet committee on security is expected to clear the purchase of 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters for the Indian navy in the next two weeks, a defence official and an industry source briefed on the matter separately told Reuters.
“It’s a government-to-government deal, it is close,” said the industry source.
To cut short lengthy negotiations between Lockheed and the Indian government, the helicopters that will be deployed on India’s warships will be bought through the U.S. foreign military sales route, under which the two governments will agree details of the deal.
Trade officials have pointed to large-scale U.S. arms purchases, from surveillance planes to Apache and Chinook helicopters, as proof of India’s willingness to tighten strategic ties.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department said it had approved an Indian request for an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System for an estimated cost of $1.87 billion, which would further strengthen the two countries’ defence ties.
The two sides are expected to move forward on the deal over the year.
The multirole helicopters from Lockheed will be equipped with Hellfire missiles and torpedoes, and are meant to help the Indian navy track submarines in the Indian Ocean, where China is expanding its presence.
Many of India’s warships are without any helicopters because of years of underfunding, and the navy had sought their acquisition as a top priority.
The government outlined only a modest rise in its 2020/21 defence spending to $73.65 billion in the budget on Feb. 1, of which a part will go towards making a down payment on the helicopter purchase, a defence official said.
“We expect a positive announcement soon on the helicopters,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of service rules. “There are limited resources, but there is an allocation.”
The U.S. State Department approved the sale of the choppers to India last year along with radars, torpedoes and 10 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
The clearance came after the Trump administration rolled out a new “Buy American” plan in 2018 that had relaxed restrictions on sales, saying it would bolster the American defence industry and create jobs at home.
The United States has also offered India the armed version of Guardian drones that were originally authorized for sale as unarmed for surveillance purposes, the first such approval for a country outside the NATO alliance.
India plans to buy 30 of these unmanned aircraft for surveillance of the Indian Ocean, at a cost estimated to be about $2.5 billion, from General Atomics. However, the defence official said the deal is unlikely immediately because of lack of funds.
(With inputs from Reuters)