Trump hinted that a small trade deal with India could still come out of his visit to the country next week, but he said a “big deal” might not happen until after the election.
“We can have a trade deal with India, but I’m really saving the big deal for later on,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We’re doing a very big trade deal with India. We’ll have it. I don’t know if it will be done before the election, but we’ll have a very big deal with India. We’re not treated very well by India, but I happen to like Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi a lot.”
Staying positive: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal had a positive phone call last week, according to people closely following the talks.
A mini deal could address U.S. concerns over Indian price controls on American medical devices and some tariffs on U.S. agricultural and manufactured goods like Harley-Davidson motorcycles. It could also include the establishment of a new, regular dialogue on digital trade issues, although New Delhi has shown some reluctance to agreeing to something like that, one person said.
Lighthizer had been scheduled to go to India last week to finalize the agreement but stayed back in Washington, where he and Goyal talked over video conference, the people said.
“There were some concerns that the president wasn’t on board,” said one person briefed on internal deliberations.
India wants a trade deal to restore tariff cuts on certain exports as part of the Generalized System of Preferences. It’s unclear if Trump is ready to return those benefits, which are reserved for a group of developing countries.
A starter deal: Observers say a so-called starter deal with India will be necessary if the two countries want to tackle larger trade issues. Closer trade relations have eluded the U.S. and India over the course of multiple White House administrations. Trump called India the “tariff king” and U.S. companies have often complained about policies and regulations that have kept them from accessing the market of more than 1.3 billion people.
“I think that the president is right, we should go for a big deal, but we need a starter deal first,” said Roger Murry, deputy director of the Alliance for Fair Trade with India. “A big deal is impossible without it.”
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