NEW DELHI, India — President Donald Trump will close out his 36-hour trip to India Tuesday without striking a long-coveted trade deal to ease tariffs — but that won’t stop him from selling it as a victory.
The self-proclaimed master dealmaker is arguing that he is holding out for a bigger and better deal.
“I can’t lose this, I can’t lose it,” Trump boasted Tuesday during a press conference before leaving India, indicating a deal could now come toward the end of the year. “You know what, I’ll never lose it. it’s too easy.”
Trump said during the trip that his team was in “the early stages of discussion for an incredible trade agreement,” even though his staff had been working on a deal for more than a year and had indicated just days before the visit that it would be cinched while in India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed through a translator that the two sides wanted to try for a “bigger deal.”
It’s a pitch that Trump will soon be making to voters, some of whom have been hurt by rising prices after three years of trade disputes with countries across the globe: Even though there may not be a deal yet, something great is on the horizon.
An outside Trump adviser summed it up: “He said he wouldn’t sign bad deals.”
Trump essentially said as much Tuesday. “It has to be reciprocal,” he argued during his press conference. “And the money you’re talking about is major, but the United States has to be treated fairly, and India understands that.”
The pattern has played out in several trade wars Trump has launched during his time in office. The president ratchets up pressure, then either strikes a minor deal or argues he must hold out for a better one. It happened most recently with China. After slapping tariffs on the country and calling them an “enemy,” Trump struck a phase-one deal that unwound a portion of the tariffs while leaving other major issues unresolved. Trump has also hailed trade deals with Mexico, Canada, Japan and South Korea.
The strategy is important as Trump enters 2020 trying to sell the electorate that he deserves to be reelected over his handling of the economy.
“The trade and economic relationship with India is critically important to the United States, and I think also access to the United States market is critical to the Indian government,” said a senior administration official. “We do want to make sure that we get this balance right. We want to address a bunch … of concerns, and we’re not quite there yet.”
While Trump allies do worry that tariffs could put a dent in the economy, so far, they say, several important economic indicators, like the stock market, have stayed relatively strong.
In the days before the trip, Trump’s team had indicated that the president would sign a deal in India to address recent economic disputes between the two countries, caused, in part, by steps Trump has taken.
Yet after a day of bilateral meetings Tuesday, Trump and Modi, who share similar protectionist policies on trade, agreed their teams should continue to negotiate over what the president vowed would be a “fair and reciprocal” deal, even as tariffs remain in tact.
“Our teams have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement and I’m optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries,” Trump told reporters earlier on Tuesday, standing next to Modi outside Hyderabad House, a government building in New Delhi.
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