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Trump in India: Two days, three MoUs, a defence deal and more

V Nivedita | Updated on February 26, 2020 Published on February 25, 2020

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi   -  Reuters

The US President’s visit to India was filled with a lot of glamour. Here's the substance behind the clutter

United States (US) President Donald Trump took his maiden trip to India at the fag end of his presidential term.

Despite Trump making it clear that there would be no trade deal with India on this trip, there was excitement in India about the President's visit.

Prime Minister Modi rolled out the red carpet for Trump, who was joined by his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. On the first day of the visit, Modi greeted the Trumps at Ahmedabad. The US President and the First Lady visited the Sabarmati ashram. Modi and Trump went on a 22 km roadshow and addressed a huge event named 'Namaste Trump'. Then the Trumps travelled to Agra and took a guided tour of the Taj Mahal.

On the second day, the action moved to New Delhi, and the attention moved to addressing the various issues between the two countries. Modi and Trump announced a series of measures to increase the engagements between the two countries, including major defence deals and agreements on healthcare and energy sectors. Overall, the two leaders had discussions for over five hours during Trump's State visit.

 

Commenting on the nature of the India-US relationship, PM Modi said that the ties were "people-centric" and "people-driven". The relations between the two countries have never been as good as they are now, Trump said.

Increased defence cooperation

During the press meet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the two countries have decided to take the relationship to the level of "comprehensive global strategic partnership". President Trump announced that the two countries have agreed upon a defence deal that was worth $3 billion. This deal would include the procurement of 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters six AH-64E Apache helicopters by India.

 

Modi said, “Defence cooperation between two countries is reflective of the rising strategic partnership between India and the US.” He also said that the two countries have agreed on a new mechanism to contain narco-terrorism and other organised crimes.

Combating terror

To reassure India on the US' commitment to fight terrorism, Trump also affirmed the two countries’ commitment to protecting their citizens from radical Islamic terrorism. “In this effort, the US is also working productively with Pakistan to confront terrorists who operate on its soil,” Trump said. Modi said that the two countries have increased efforts to hold terror supporters responsible for their crimes.

On a more global note, Trump talked about the Quad initiative. “Together, the Prime Minister and I are working to revitalise the Quad initiative with the US, India, Australia and Japan,” he said. Modi reinforced the need for a rule-based international order in the Indo Pacific region and global commons.

Increased economic cooperation

Even before his trip to India, Trump clearly stated that there is no trade deal in the offing during his visit. He held on to this perspective, promising only a great trade deal to India. At the 'Namaste Trump' event in Ahmedabad, Trump said, "Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi and I will also discuss our efforts to expand the economic ties between the two countries," adding, "We are in early stages of a discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers for investments between the US and India."

 

At the joint press conference with Modi, Trump said, "I am optimistic that we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries." He also added that the US International Development Finance Cooperation would set up a permanent presence in India.

 

Modi on his part said that the bilateral trade grew in double digits in the past three years and that it has "become more balanced". He also stressed on the stronger cooperation in the energy sector. America has become an "important source for oil and gas", he said.

Till the time the two nations agree on a trade deal, India is likely to continue to address the huge trade surplus it has with the US.

There is just one problem here -- if the US elects a new president in November, it could be back to the drawing board.

India and the US are increasing cooperation on security and counter-terrorism, but there is a risk of "plauteauing" of the relationship because of persistent niggles.

It will bode well for both countries to work together to meet their objectives -- for the US, India can be the gateway to Asia, counter China and help address its Afghan problem. For India, US can potentially help is reduce it's dependence on West Asia to meet its energy needs, provide the latest defence technology and help it check Pakistan and China, which is increasingly becoming more aggressive in Asia.

Published on February 25, 2020
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