New Delhi: It’s not quite fractious Hell’s Angels territory, but America’s iconic Harley-Davidson motorcycle is becoming a bit of an irritant in roaring ties between the US and India and their leaders President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Tuesday, Trump slammed the high import duty on Harley-Davidson motorcycles by India, saying the US was “getting nothing" from New Delhi’s recent announcement that it had slashed the duty on imported high-end motorcycles to 50%.
“When they (Harley-Davidson) send a motorcycle to India, as an example, they have to pay 100% tax—100%," Trump said in his remarks to a gathering of governors of all the states at the White House.
Referring to a recent telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month, Trump described Modi as a “fantastic man", adding the PM had informed him that India has reduced tariffs on imported motorcycles. But the US was “getting nothing," Trump complained.
The conversation took place on 8 February with a readout given by the White House referring to the two having spoken about Afghanistan, the situation in the Maldives and the Indo-Pacific. And Harley-Davidson, the favoured bike of the Hell’s Angels American motorbike club known for its history of violence.
“Now, the prime minister, who I think is a fantastic man, called me the other day and said we are lowering it to 50%. I said okay, but so far we’re getting nothing. So we get nothing. He gets 50 (per cent), and they think we’re doing—like they’re doing us a favour. That’s not a favour," he said.
“I wasn’t sure —he said it so beautifully. He’s a beautiful man. And he said, ‘I just want to inform you that we have reduced it to 75, but we have further reduced it to 50’. And I said, ‘huh?’ What do I say? Am I supposed to be thrilled? And that’s not good for you people, especially as governors. It’s just not right. And we have many deals like that," Trump said.
The comments follow two face-to-face meetings between Trump and Modi last year besides many telephone conversations over which the two seemed to have put in place a warm working relationship.
Trump and the Modi government have seemingly seen eye-to-eye on a number of strategic issues. And at a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vietnam last year, Trump even praised Modi’s efforts at opening up the Indian economy. India-US bilateral trade stands at over $100 billion with the aim of increasing it to $500 billion set by former US president Joe Biden on a visit to India in 2013.
But fears that trade and commerce would be an area of possible friction were realised early on with Trump making it clear on the presidential campaign trail that he would seek “fair" and “reciprocal" trading terms with countries like India and China.
India stands 10th on a list of top 10 countries with which the US has major trade deficits. India’s trade surplus with the US stands at a little more than $30 billion.
On Tuesday, Trump said the US gets “zero" when it buys an Indian motorcycle—in a reference to zero-tariff barriers on motorcycle imports from India.
“So when they have a motorbike—a big number, by the way—they have a company that does a lot of business. They have a motorcycle or a motorbike that comes into our country—the number is zero. We get zero (in terms of taxes). They get 100% (in taxes) brought down to 75; brought down, now, to 50. Okay," Trump said.