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Narendra Modi’s meeting with Joe Biden will feature many firsts

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in Washington DC during his meeting with VP Kamala Harris.
REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
Cuts four ways.
  • Manavi Kapur
By Manavi Kapur


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Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is in the US after two years, and a lot has changed since his last visit.  Back in September 2019, there was no Covid-19, Donald Trump was the president, and Modi was almost campaigning for him with the “abki baar, Trump sarkaar” (this time, Trump government) slogan.

Yesterday (Sept. 23). Modi met vice-president Kamala Harris and a host of executives from Fortune 500 companies like Qualcomm, First Solar, Adobe, General Atomic, the Blackstone Group. He also met Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga and Australia’s Scott Morrison.

The highlight of his three-day trip, though, is his meeting with US president Joe Biden.

On the agenda for Modi and Biden

Modi is in Washington on the US president’s invitation, and announced that they would “exchange views on areas of mutual interest.”

On the docket, according to Modi, is also a review of the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, a pact that he signed with Trump in February 2020.  As part of the partnership, the two countries had pledged to “deepen defense and security cooperation” through shared technology, partnerships between defense industries, and training personnel.

The pact also includes shared and stable trade relations between India and the US, including their interests in the energy, nuclear power, and space exploration sectors.

Will Biden and Modi talk about tariffs?

The main bone of contention is the high tariffs that India imposed on goods and services imported from the US since 2018, an issue that remained unresolved despite Modi and Trump’s apparent camaraderie. Trump called Modi a “tough negotiator” when he visited India in February 2020.

Under the Biden administration tariffs have remained a sticky point. The US government in June announced a 25% retaliatory tariff hike for 26 items imported from India, in response to the Indian government’s digital services tax on American companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. For the moment, though, the US’s tariff hike has been put on hold till December.

Modi and Biden are likely also going to discuss the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. “We would undoubtedly discuss the need to see an end to radicalism, extremism, cross border terrorism, and the dismantling of global terrorist networks,” said foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Sept. 21.

The Quad

The other key element of Modi’s visit is the Quad summit between India, Japan, Australia, and the US.

Australia and the US are also part of AUKUS, the new security alliance between the two countries and the UK. India, which is not a part of this alliance, says that there is no link between AUKUS and the Quad. The Indian government sees the Quad as a forum for discussing emerging technologies, Covid-19 pandemic relief, and maritime security, according to Shringla.

“AUKUS is a security alliance, Quad is a different group of countries working on a different vision…of the Indo Pacific as a free, open, transparent, inclusive region,” Shringla told reporters on Sept. 21. “In the same sentiment Malabar exercises [maritime operations involving Australia, India, Japan, US] are those that are done between different nations but has nothing to do with Quad.”

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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