US President Donald Trump, who himself has a reputation of being a “dealmaker", hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday as a “very tough negotiator" even as he hoped to conclude a major trade deal with India.
On the first day of his two-day visit, Trump, along with Modi, addressed the more than 100,000 people gathered at the Motera cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.
On Tuesday, India and the US are expected to sit down for negotiations on trade, defence, and strategic matters in New Delhi. Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross is expected to lead the trade talks from the US side as US trade representative Robert Lighthizer is not accompanying Trump. Expectations of a limited trade deal during Trump’s visit have faded, but both sides may resolve a few more irritants if pushed by both leaders.
“Over the course of my visit, Prime Minister Modi and I will also discuss our efforts to expand the economic ties between our two countries. We will be making very, very major—among the biggest ever made—trade deals," Trump said in his speech.
“We are in the early stages of a discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers of investment between the United States and India and I am optimistic that, working together, the Prime Minister and I can reach a fantastic deal that’s good and even great for both of our countries. Except that he’s a very tough negotiator," Trump quipped turning towards Modi.
Commerce between the two nations has increased by more than 40% since he took office in 2016, Trump said. “India is now a major market for American exports, and the US is India’s largest export market. A booming America is a great thing for India and it’s great for the world and that’s why we are happy to announce that we have had the greatest economy ever in the history of United States," he said.
Trump said Modi has already made significant reforms in India. “The world looks forward to even more rapid improvement to India’s business climate under his leadership. He wants to do it and he is doing it at a record pace," he said.
Apart from his experience in dealing with Modi, Trump may also be aware of Modi’s tough positions on the Bali trade facilitation agreement in 2014 and, more recently, on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal.
Last November, Modi had refused to sign the China-led RCEP agreement after negotiating for seven years, complaining about “imbalance" in the deal. In 2014, Modi had shocked the World Trade Organization members by stalling the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) that was signed in Bali, unless the US agreed to allow developing countries to continue food security programmes indefinitely, and until a permanent solution was found. Only after the US agreed to India’s pre-condition, did New Delhi allow the implementation of the TFA, which was meant to simplify customs procedures, facilitate the speedy release of goods from ports, and cut transaction costs.