'Make in India' makes discussion on trade difficult, says senior US Administration official ahead of Trump's visit

DN Bureau

India's protectionist policy has remained a concern for the United States with respect to the trade deal between the two countries, a senior US administration official said on Friday, ahead of President Donald Trump's visit to India, adding that the "Make in India" campaign makes the discussion on trade difficult.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump

Washington DC: India's protectionist policy has remained a concern for the United States with respect to the trade deal between the two countries, a senior US administration official said on Friday, ahead of President Donald Trump's visit to India, adding that the "Make in India" campaign makes the discussion on trade difficult.

"The protectionism policy has been a concern for us. We have had a number of announcements coming from India which are making the discussions more difficult perhaps," the official told the reporters here.

"The recent one being the 'Make in India' announcement, (which) has made the protectionism concern even greater. There has been an increase and not a decrease of concerns and this would certainly come up among the leaders," the official added. Tensions on the trade front between the two countries had emerged in June, last year, after Trump revoked preferential trade privileges, in response to which India imposed tariffs on 28 US products, including almonds and apples. Despite several meetings held over the past 18 months in Washington DC, New Delhi, and New York, trade negotiators of the two countries are yet to finalise on a deal.

Trump will arrive on his maiden visit to India on February 24. US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner will be part of a 12-level delegation accompanying the US President during his visit, a senior US Administration official said on Friday.

The other eight members of the delegation are: US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino, First Lady Melania Trump's chief of staff Lindsay Reynolds, White House advisor Robert Blair, and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, the official said.

The participants at the bilateral meetings will be: Adam S Boehler, the chief executive of the US International Development Finance Corporation, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, Lisa Curtis, the senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, and Kash Patel, a former top National Security Council official. The official further said that Trump will discuss the issues concerning the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He added that the US has great respect for Indian Democratic traditions and institutions and "will continue to encourage India to uphold" them.

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"President Trump will talk about our shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom, both, in his public remarks and certainly in private. He will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue that's very important for this (Trump) administration. We have our shared commitment of upholding our universal values, the rule of law," the senior official said.

"We have great respect for Indian Democratic traditions and institutions and we will continue to encourage India to uphold those traditions. We are concerned about the issues that you (the reporter) have raised," the official said, referring to the reporter's questions on whether the CAA and NRC issues would be raised.

"The president will talk about these issues, in his meetings with Prime Minister Modi and note that the world is looking at India to continue to uphold its democratic tradition," the official added.

CAA, which promises citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist, and Christian refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, is facing stiff opposition across the country with some states including Kerala, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Punjab refusing to implement it. On being asked about whether the US President will repeat his offer of mediation on the Kashmir issue between New Delhi and Islamabad, the official said that Trump will encourage the two neighbouring countries to engage in bilateral dialogue to resolve their difference.

"I think what you'll hear from the President is very much encouraging a reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan, encouraging the two countries to engage in bilateral dialogue with each other to resolve their differences," the official said here. "President will urge both countries to seek to maintain peace and stability along the line of control and refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region," the official added.

The official added that the United States believes a core foundation of any successful dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad is based on continued momentum in Pakistan's efforts to crack down on terrorists and extremists on its territory.

Last month, Trump had repeated his offer to "help" resolve the Kashmir issue during his meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. India has maintained that there is no scope for third-party mediation.

Calling US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo statement -- that the country has reached an understanding with the Taliban to reduce violence in Afghanistan -- a major step forward, the official said Washington would look to India's support for the Afghan peace process.

"We would just encourage India, as we are all regional countries, to do whatever they can to support this peace process so that it can be successful and we can potentially end 19 years of military, diplomatic, economic engagement. You know, that we can end the military engagement. We will be continuing our diplomatic and economic engagement, which has been there over the last 19 years," the official said.

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"But we certainly would look to India to support this peace process -- an important country in the region, important to the overall stability of the region. So I think if the issue comes up, that is what would be the request from the President," the official added. The official said that the visit would focus on enhancing economic, energy, defense and security cooperation between the two countries.

"The U.S. wants an India that is strong, with a capable military that supports peace, stability, and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. Indeed, India is a pillar of our Indo-Pacific strategy, and we continue to work together to promote this vision of a free and open international system based on market economics, good governance, freedom of the seas and skies, and respect for sovereignty," the official said.

"And our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific really goes to the heart of what binds our two countries together, and this is our shared democratic systems that place a premium on citizen-centric governments. In fact, India has a strong foundation of democracy, going back to the early days, right after independence. India is a country rich in religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity. In fact, it's the birthplace of four major world religions," the official added.

On being asked about the restoration of India's participation in the Generalized System of Preferences, the official said, "The concerns that led to the revocation, suspension of India's GSP access remains a concern for us. And to remind those on the call it was really the failure of the Indian government to provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets in numerous sectors."

Accompanied by a 12-member delegation, President Trump will arrive in India on a two-day visit on February 24. The visiting dignitary is also expected to attend an event at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad, named 'Namaste Trump,' on the lines of the 'Howdy Modi' function that was addressed by the US President and Modi in Houston in September last year.

Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will have an extensive schedule for February 25 when they arrive in the national capital of India. According to sources, there will be multiple meetings and delegation-level talks apart from the exchange of agreements. (ANI)

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