Trump says working on a very big trade deal with India, but will take time

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A man applies finishing touches to paintings of U.S. President Donald Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a wall as part of a beautification along a route that Trump and Modi will be taking during Trump’s upcoming visit, in Ahmedabad, February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Amit Dave

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States and India were working on a major trade deal but he was not sure if it would be completed before the U.S. presidential election in November.

As Trump prepares for his first official trip to India, negotiators have been trying for weeks to put together a limited accord giving the U.S. greater access to India’s dairy and poultry markets and lowering tariffs on other products.

No breakthrough has yet been announced and a planned trip by United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was cancelled, underlining the difficulties the two sides face in narrowing differences ahead of Trump’s visit.

“We can have a trade deal with India, but I’m really saving the big deal for later on,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday, outside Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

“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 election, but we’ll have a very big deal with India,” he said, in a transcript of remarks released by the White House.

The United States is India’s second-largest trade partner after China, with their goods and services trade hitting a record $142.6 billion in 2018.

Last year, the United States had a $23.2 billion goods trade deficit in 2019 with India, its 9th largest trading partner in goods.

Defence ties between the two countries have rapidly expanded and on Wednesday, the Indian cabinet cleared the purchase of 24 naval helicopters from U.S. defence firm Lockheed Martin <LMT.N>, an Indian defence source said.

Reuters reported this month that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet was likely to give final approval to the $2.6 billion deal for 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters equipped with Hellfire missiles and torpedoes.

The cabinet also approved an MOU on intellectual property rights to be signed with the United States, information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said.

Since Trump took office in 2017, long-standing trade differences between the world’s biggest democracies have come to the fore, with Trump calling India the tariff king.

The two have warred over everything from tariffs on farm goods to Harley-Davidson motorbikes and price caps on medical devices and India’s new rules on local data storage.

Modi, who has tried to build a personal rapport with Trump, is pulling out all the stops for his visit, hosting him next week in Modi’s home state of Gujarat for a reception in a cricket stadium.

“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 7 million people between the airport and the event,” Trump said, referring to a roadshow ahead of a “Hello Trump” rally in Ahmedabad, the main city in Gujarat where he will begin the trip.

Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said Trump’s visit will be “brief but intense” and that tens of thousands of people from across India will gather in Ahmedabad to welcome him.

Trump and his wife Melania will also visit the Taj Mahal in Agra before coming to Delhi, he said.

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