The pact will be signed during US President Donald Trump’s visit to India next week, said two people familiar with the developments. They said talks for military hardware purchases for India’s defence forces were ongoing and some of these were expected to be concluded during the visit. The people did not say if more defence deals would be signed during Trump’s visit.
Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump are set to arrive in India on Monday on a 36-hour trip that will see them visiting Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi.
The defence deal is likely to be the highlight of the visit given that a limited trade deal the two sides were looking to clinch is not expected to happen.
India’s Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday cleared the purchase of the 24 helicopters that are expected to boost the Indian Navy’s anti-submarine warfare operations, said the one of the people cited above.
India, which has been trying to modernize its military, has ramped up its defence purchases from the US. In the past two decades, India has procured about $18 billion worth of military hardware from the US. These include the Boeing C-17 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft and Apache attack helicopters and Lockheed Martin’s C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.
On the trade deal, the second person cited earlier said trade minister Piyush Goyal and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer had agreed not to rush the deal and instead look to the future and strike a deal that will be a “win-win" for both the sides. India was looking to increase its energy purchases from the US that would cut down India’s trade surplus with that country, the person said. New Delhi was also looking at buying civilian passenger aircraft from the US in the years ahead, the second person added.
Briefing reporters, foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said Trump’s visit would be the first-ever stand-alone visit to India by a US president.
“Prime Minister Narendra 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," Shringla said, adding that Trump is expected to be accompanied by a high-level delegation, which is being finalized.
“This will be President Trump’s 5th meeting with Prime Minister Modi in eight months (after meetings on the sidelines of the G20 in Osaka, the G7 in Biarritz, a bilateral visit to the US during which the two leaders addressed the Howdy Modi rally in Houston and a bilateral meeting in New York)—reflecting the renewed intensity of high-level bilateral engagement since the National Democratic Alliance government returned to power," he said.
Trump’s visit makes it the fifth official visit by a serving US president to India since 2000. In contrast, between 1947 and 2000, India saw only three US presidential visits.
Despite recent irritants in trade ties, the US continues to be India’a largest trading partner, with bilateral trade expected to cross $150 billion for the first time this year, Shringla said. “It is now also our sixth-largest source of crude oil imports, with hydrocarbon imports rising to $7 billion in the last two years," Shringla said.
Trump’s Ahmedabad visit is expected to showcase India’s cultural diversity and lay the foundation of a people-to- people partnership, the second person said. Trump and Modi are expected to address a public meeting at the Motera stadium, billed to be the world’s largest cricket stadium with a seating capacity of 110,000 people, the person said.
“We have come a long way in this relationship... we have to see this visit in context. It is one of the largest and biggest visits that has ever happened in not just the India-US relationship but any visit anywhere in the world," the person said.
In New Delhi next Tuesday, talks between Trump and Modi “will be comprehensive and cover issues relating to our strategic partnership in the areas of defence, security, counterterrorism, as well as trade, energy, people-to-people exchanges and other bilateral matters," Shringla said.
A joint statement that would be issued after the talks is expected to lay out the road map for cooperation in defence, trade, science and technology and the Indo-Pacific region. Trump is expected to attend a private roundtable with industry representatives and a banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind before leaving for home, he said.