Promoting shared vision

Wednesday, 2020-02-26 16:48:16
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President Trump shake hands with PM Modi ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 25, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – US President D. Trump has just finished his two-day official visit to India. During his first official visit to India, President Trump had extensive discussions with Prime Minister of the host country N. Modi, on strengthening the defence relationship and bilateral strategy, after disagreements related to trade deficit. In particular, the two sides agreed to strongly promote the strategic partnership toward the future, and affirmed the increasing “convergence” of common interests, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

The first stop for the US President during his visit to India was the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state, the home state of PM Modi. Thousands of people stood along both sides of the street to welcome the US President. In Ahmedabad, President Tump and PM Modi attended a massive rally and delivered speeches in the presence of more than 100,000 people at a newly opened stadium, during an event called '“Namaste Trump!”, similar to the event “Howdy Modi!” organised by the Indian-American community in honour of PM Modi during his visit to Texas, the US in September, 2019.

Speaking at the rally, President D. Trump pledged to promote trade relations with India, stressing that the US was ready to provide India with modern defence equipment from drones to helicopters and missile systems. He also expected to expand cooperation in the field of space between the two countries, and said the two sides “have agreed to start negotiating for a big trade deal”.

President Trump and PM Modi conducted official talks in New Delhi. This is the fifth meeting between the two leaders in the past eight months. At the talks, the two sides focused on discussing a range of bilateral and regional issues, including trade and investment, defence and security, counter-terrorism, energy security, religious freedom, and people-to-people exchanges, as well as planning a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban as well as discussing the situation of the Indo-Pacific region.

At a joint press conference after the talks, the two leaders said New Delhi and Washington have not signed a trade agreement, but will start negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement. President Trump said that India will buy US$3 billion worth of military equipment. He also said that the two sides discussed the importance of a secure 5G wireless network in India, ahead of the country’s telecom spectrum auctions according to the set out plan.

According to observers, the US President's trip to India was considered to enlist the support of Indian-American voters in the context of the approaching US presidential election and President Trump trying to find all the ways possible to stay in the White House for another term. On the other hand, through this visit, the two sides also identified measures to strengthen the bilateral strategic relations. In particular, the two sides have increasingly recognised the same vision for the Indo-Pacific region. Accordingly, New Delhi and Washington are committed to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Both India and the US have affirmed their efforts to maintain peace for maritime and land space in Asia while oppose violations of sovereignty, security and legitimate economic activities of other countries in the region.

The agreement to launch negotiations to conclude a comprehensive trade agreement between the two countries is considered an encouraging result during this visit, especially since the US overtook China to become India's largest trading partner. According to the data of the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in 2018-19, the bilateral trade between the US and India stood at US$87.95 billion while India's two-way commerce with China aggregated at US$87.07 billion. Similarly, in the nine months of 2019-2020, bilateral trade between India and the US reached US$68 billion while with China was US$64.96 billion over the same period.

However, according to many observers, it will not be easy to achieve a comprehensive trade agreement between the US and India. In particular, the two sides must overcome a series of disagreements related to the trade deficit between the two countries. At the same time, both the US and India need to remove protections soon and raise taxes on many of each other's products imposed in recent years. Sharing a common vision and interest in strengthening the bilateral strategic relationship is the basis for believing that New Delhi and Washington will quickly overcome current difficulties to make the bilateral relationship warmer.