The fifth visit of a serving US president to India in two decades, a testament to how far ties between the two nations have evolved since the two eyed each other suspiciously during the Cold War era, will have many takeaways, symbolic and concrete, for New Delhi, according to analysts.
“I look forward to going to India," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, according to a PTI report from Washington on Wednesday. “He (Modi) is a friend of mine. He’s a great gentleman," Trump said in response to a question.
Modi described Trump’s visit to India on 24-25 February as a “very special one". “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," he said on Twitter.
“India and USA share a common commitment to democracy and pluralism. Our nations are cooperating extensively on a wide range of issues. Robust friendship between our nations augurs well not only for our citizens but also for the entire world," he said.
On Tuesday, the White House and India’s external affairs ministry announced that Trump and First Lady Melania would visit New Delhi and Ahmedabad during their two-day trip. In Ahmedabad, Trump and Modi will attend the “Kem chho Trump" event at the new Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium, with more than 125,000 people expected to attend the programme, along the lines of the “Howdy Modi" event hosted for Modi in Houston in September.
The Trump visit is important in the context of maintaining the high-level contact between the Indian and US leadership, said Arun K. Singh, former Indian ambassador to the US. Given that then president Barack Obama visited five years ago, another visit at that level was more than due, he said. Trump “has at least another year in office. It is important that he remains positively oriented towards India", Singh said.
“For Trump himself, this will be an opportunity to show that he is getting a positive response internationally following his Senate impeachment acquittal and State of the Union address, which appealed to his voter base and was also marked by attempts at outreach to the African American and to the Hispanic community in the US," he said.
In terms of concrete takeaways, India and the US could clinch the “limited trade" deal that the two sides have been discussing, Singh said, in a reference to efforts to narrow India’s trade surplus with the US, which stood at $30 billion in 2017. This has now reduced to $16 billion, say Indian officials, given that New Delhi has ramped up imports, including energy, from the US. Bilateral trade has now topped $140 billion. India has received foreign direct investment of $ 3.13 billion from the US in 2018-19, up from $2 billion in 2017-18, according to Indian officials.
With “fair trade" being a cornerstone of the Trump presidency, the US is pushing for greater market access for its farm and manufacturing products, dairy items and medical devices in India. New Delhi, on its part, seeks exemption from high duties imposed by Washington on certain steel and aluminium products as well as resumption of benefits on tariff on certain products under their generalized system of preferences. India is also pressing the US to facilitate greater market access for its products in the US in sectors such as agriculture, automobiles, auto components and engineering.
The two sides are close to a deal, said a person familiar with the matter, but did not comment on whether a pact would be sealed in time for Trump’s visit.
The US President on his part said on Tuesday he would do a deal with India if “we can make the right deal," according to a PTI report.
Singh said a second takeaway would be in the area of defence cooperation.
According to former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, India stands to gain much from Trump’s visit. “The US may be relatively declining, but it remains a pre-eminent power for the forseeable future," he said. “Even the US’s adversaries want a good relationship with Washington. In our case, we are favourably placed as the US does not consider us a strategic adversary," Sibal said.