Kerala Kaumudi Online
Monday, 06 April 2020 9.07 PM IST

US backs off from signing trade deal with India last minute before Trump’s visit


NEW DELHI: Contrary to the impression that India had been dragging its feet over a trade deal with the US that was to be signed during President Donald Trump's first official visit to India beginning Monday, highly placed Indian sources reveal that it was the American side that pulled back at the last minute - when the two sides had all but clinched the deal.

While officials are tight-lipped over details of the trade negotiation that was initially to be the centrepiece of the Trump visit, India Today learns that the two sides had worked hard to arrive at a mini-deal in the past few weeks but it was the US negotiators who finally put it on hold and said they would want to go in for a bigger and more ambitious deal.

Sources revealed that the two sides had got "pretty much of a handle" over the contentious issues that had stalled such a deal in the past. They had worked on resolving "a set of issues that dealt with lowering tariffs and providing market access on both sides" in a range of sectors and then to create a package acceptable to both sides.

This included the US demand for relaxing price restrictions on certain medical devices and India's demand that the US restore the Generalised Systems of Preferences (GSP) that it had withdrawn last June. The GSP had allowed Indian manufacturers duty free exports of over 3,000 select products to the US.

Yet when the two sides were very close to clinching the mini deal, a source reveals that the US negotiators said they wanted to put it on hold and go in for a more ambitious deal later. The source said, "The US side was very upfront about it. They acknowledged that both sides had worked very hard for it. But said they wanted to take a deep breath on the deal and revisit it later.

And that they wanted to make it even bigger." President Trump in recent public meetings in the US, while expressing his unhappiness about India's high tariffs, had also stated that America and India were planning to sign an even "bigger deal" later.

Meanwhile, in a background briefing to the media, a senior US administration official said, "The trade and economic relationship with India is critically important to the United States and I think also the United States market is critical to the Indian government. We do want to make sure that we get the balance right. We want to address a lot of concerns and we're not quite there yet. We will likely have discussion with the Prime Minister about these concerns and continue the discussion beyond the visit." The focus of the Trump visit has now shifted to major deals on the energy and defence sectors, apart from homeland security.

These are likely to be signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Trump have their formal bilateral meeting on Tuesday. On Monday, President Trump will land in Ahmedabad with his entourage that has not only his wife, Melania, but also daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.

Trump is also accompanied by his A-team of officials that includes secretaries who head the US commerce and energy departments, apart from his National Security Adviser. Trump and Modi will address a mammoth public meeting at the Motera stadium before the US President leaves for Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and then lands in Delhi late Monday evening.

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