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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

As trade talks advance, India and US hope for ‘early results’ 

Trade tensions between India and the US have emerged as a key irritant in an otherwise robust relationship, with US President Donald Trump complaining repeatedly about Indian tariffs on American goods and access to the Indian market.

india Updated: Oct 02, 2019 06:01 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, walks out with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, walks out with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.(AP photo)
         

Washington India and the US have noted positive developments in trade talks but would like to see “early results” from their negotiators in view of the importance of economic ties for the health of the larger bilateral relationship.

“Both of us felt that while the trade issue had progressed, for the larger relationship, it was important we see some early results,” external affairs minister S Jaishankar told reporters for Indian media outlets after his meeting with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Monday.

Trade tensions between India and the US have emerged as a key irritant in an otherwise robust relationship, with US President Donald Trump complaining repeatedly about Indian tariffs on American goods and access to the Indian market.

Commerce minister Piyush Goyal and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer have engaged in trade talks with renewed urgency in recent days but were unable to hammer out a mini deal that was expected to be announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just-concluded visit to the US.

Jaishankar refrained from sharing details of the negotiations, noting they were ongoing.

Ahead of his bilateral meeting with Modi, Trump described trade as the “biggest” issue the two sides would be talking about. Trump said the two countries are working on a “trade deal” in the near term and a “larger deal down the road a little bit”.

Ian Bremmer, head of the Eurasia Group, who met Jaishankar in New York last week, wrote in a note on Monday that “one (of the solutions is a) ‘quick fix’ reducing tariffs, and (the other is a) broader modernisation and aligned standards pact”.

Asked about Trump’s repeated offers to mediate on Kashmir, Jaishankar said: “India has been very clear (on this) for 40-odd years, that we won’t accept mediation and that whatever has to be discussed has to be discussed bilaterally (by India and Pakistan).”

“I’m clear in my mind as far as I’m concerned…Whose issue (is it)? Mine. Who has to take the call? Me. If it is my issue and I have to take the call, I will decide whether I want somebody’s mediation or not. You can offer anything you like, but if I decide it is not relevant to me, then it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Modi didn’t refer to the Kashmir issue during his address to the UN General Assembly, reinforcing India’s position that the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status is an internal matter.

Speaking separately to American reporters before meeting Pompeo, Jaishankar said Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call for jihad against India was part of efforts to “dramatise the situation” but India wouldn’t “go down that path”. The changes in Kashmir were “nobody else’s business”, he added.

Jaishankar also defended India’s “sovereign right” to buy weapons and said the country won’t be told by any state to not buy military hardware from Russia. The context was India’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems that could attract US sanctions.

It didn’t come up in his meeting with Pompeo, and neither did the issue of Iranian oil sanctions.

Jaishankar said he and Pompeo discussed India’s “immediate region”, which could include Pakistan and Afghanistan, the “larger Asian landscape”, the region east of Asia and Southeast Asia and the Gulf. This was their third meeting.

Jaishankar is also scheduled to meet US defence secretary Mark Esper, NSA Robert O’Brien and acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan. He is meeting all three for the first time.

He noted with regret not being able to meet lawmakers as Congress is not in session. Congress, he said, is “normally a compulsory stop for us” because it has been the most supportive of all US institutions. He will meet Speaker Nancy Pelosi before they jointly headline a Gandhi anniversary event on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, congressman Brad Sherman, chairman of the House subcommittee on Asia, has announced the panel will hold a hearing on “Human rights in South Asia” on October 22. The hearing will focus on the Kashmir Valley, “where many political activists have been arrested and daily life, the internet, and telephone communications have been interrupted”, said a statement from his office. It will also review the humanitarian situation in Kashmir.

Alice Wells, the Trump administration’s pointperson for South Asia, and deputy assistant secretary Scott Busby of the bureau of democracy, human rights and labour, will testify at the hearing.

The hearing will also focus on the human rights situation in Pakistan, Muslims in Assam and the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

First Published: Oct 01, 2019 23:01 IST

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