Claiming that India has not treated the United States “very well” on the trade front, US President Donald Trump has indicated that a “very big” bilateral deal may not be signed before the American presidential election in November.
In Delhi, government sources said that while a major trade agreement seems unlikely during Trump’s visit on February 24-25, India is likely to sign a deal to buy 24 multi-role anti-submarine helicopters from American defence giant Lockheed Martin.
The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the path for the Navy to buy the multi-role MH-60 Romeo helicopters through the Foreign Military Sale government-to-government route.
Cleared by the CCS Wednesday, the deal is likely to cost around $2.5 billion.
“Well, we can have a trade deal with India, but I’m really saving the big deal for later on,” Trump told reporters in Washington Tuesday. “We’re not treated very well by India,” he said, adding, “I happen to like Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi a lot.”
Trump said he still wanted to do “a very big trade deal with India”, but added, “I don’t know if it will be done before the election.” The US President had earlier described India as a “tariff king” for imposing “tremendously high” rates on American products. India has maintained that the tariffs are comparable to major developing countries.
Sources said India and the US have “mutually agreed” that they “don’t want to rush into a deal”. The two sides want the deal to “strike a right balance” and be “mutually beneficial”, the sources said, adding that they are looking at a “win-win solution”, with the long-term objective of India and the US becoming “FTA partners”.
In a statement Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla outlined “trade” as one of the key areas of discussion, apart from defence, security and counter-terrorism among others.
Shringla, who was India’s Ambassador to the US till recently, said Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, would land in Ahmedabad on February 24 and attend a ‘Namaste Trump’ event on the lines of the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston last September.
“He (Modi) told me we’ll have seven million people between the airport and the event. And the stadium, I understand, is sort of semi under construction, but it’s going to be the largest stadium in the world. So it’s going to be very exciting,” Trump said in Washington.
The US delegation is likely to include Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. From Ahmedabad, they will fly to Agra to view the Taj Mahal at sunset, and come to Delhi.
In the National Capital, Modi and Trump will meet for bilateral talks at Hyderabad House, which will be followed by a business event. In the evening, Trump will meet President Ram Nath Kovind at Rashtrapati Bhavan and attend a state banquet.
“Prime Minister Modi invited President Trump to India during their very first meeting at the White House in June 2017. He had promised to visit India in his first term, and this now stands fulfilled. This will be President Trump’s first visit to India. It is also going to be the first standalone visit by a US President to India,” Shringla said.
Sources said the two sides will issue a joint statement, which will be “fairly comprehensive” and “forward looking”, and will take into account the “fairly close and important relations”. It will cover all aspects like defence, trade, energy, science technology, R&D cooperation, people-to-people exchanges, including students and consular issues.
While eight-10 agreements are being negotiated, sources said these are still a “work in progress”, and some of them are likely to come through. On the issue of defence acquisition, sources said it is an “ongoing process” and “not linked to the visit”.
On the possible defence deal, the MH-60 Romeo Seahawk is one of the most advanced naval helicopters in the world used by the American Navy among others. It tracks and hunts ships, and is also used by the US Navy an anti-submarine weapon.
The helicopters will come equipped with anti-submarine Mark 54 torpedoes and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, along with precision-kill rockets that will increase the Navy’s capabilities to attack enemy boats and tackle surface threats.
As China’s presence in the Indian Ocean Region is on the rise, these 24 helicopters will help strengthen the Navy, which lacks a helicopter of similar capabilities.
The Defence Acquisition Council had approved the procurement of these helicopters in August 2018, and a request was sent to the US in November 2018. America had approved the potential sale last year.
The deal was pending clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security and can now be inked during Trump’s visit next week. The helicopters are likely to be delivered within five years, with the first batch expected by 2022.
Another deal that was slated to be announced during the visit was for six AH 64E Apache helicopters for the Army, worth $930 million. These would be in addition to the 22 that have been ordered for the Air Force. But a decision has not been taken on it yet.
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