Trump hopes to ink a US-India trade deal despite “tough negotiator” Modi

Trump’s touchdown.
Trump’s touchdown.
Image: Reuters/Al Drago
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US president Donald Trump has arrived in India with high hopes of inking a “fantastic trade deal.”

Yet, the contours of such a pact may be tough to outline given that his true friend prime minister Narendra Modi is a “tough negotiator,” by the US president’s own admission. Trump was speaking at the “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad’s newly-built Motera cricket stadium, shortly after his arrival in the country today (Feb. 24).

In 2018-19, India had a nearly $17 billion trade surplus with the US, which is a pain-point for relations between the two nations as the US seeks to narrow its overall trade deficit. The US wants India to slash tariffs on items like Harley Davidson motorbikes, and medical equipment and open its market to US dairy products. India, meanwhile, wants the US’s duties on its steel and aluminum lifted and its revoked preferential trade status restored.

Though the fate of a major trade pact hangs in the balance, Trump announced that $3 billion worth of defence deals would be inked tomorrow (Feb. 25). We look forward to selling the “best and most feared” military equipment to India, Trump said. The US president also said he was hopeful of enhancing space cooperation with India.

The most visible outcome of the visit, though, was the rapport between Trump and Modi.

From Modi’s home turf

Trump launched the first leg of his two-day visit, from Modi’s home turf of Gujarat. He tweeted in Hindi to say he’s on his way, hours before Air Force One landed at the Sardar Vallabhai Patel airport in Ahmedabad.

Modi received Trump and first lady Melania at the airport just before noon, and also spoke at the “Namaste Trump” event.

The city was spruced up as the airports, pavements, roads, and buildings, all got facelifts. Huge billboards of the two leaders and replicas of historic places in Gujarat popped up along the roads that Trump’s convoy took. As Modi and Trump made their way through the city, stages with singers and dancers dotted the 22-kilometer route. Security was beefed up several notches.

Trump and Modi participated in a roadshow from the airport to Sabarmati Ashram, the home of Mahatma Gandhi from 1917 to 1930. Several world leaders including Chinese president Xi Jinping and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe have visited the location. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos flagged off his India visit earlier this year by visiting Gandhi’s memorial, Raj Ghat, in the capital New Delhi.

From the ashram, the duo headed to the Motera cricket stadium for the “Namaste Trump” event, which was in the same vein as the Indian prime minister’s Howdy, Modi! event in Texas last September. Trump believed around seven million people would line up to meet him. Although that was a stretch, the stadium with a capacity of 110,000 people was filled to capacity.

“The US will always be faithful and loyal friend of India. Thank you for the spectacular welcome,” Trump said. Modi also praised Trump’s leadership.

Namaste Trump
Quite the turnout.
Image: Quartz/Manavi Kapur

The atmosphere was mostly jubilant—except behind the contentious concrete wall the government put up almost overnight to conceal slums, upsetting slum-dwellers in the bargain. Students at various educational institutions also questioned the need to splurge taxpayer’s money on this grand show.