Trade to security: Five key pacts may be inked during Donald Trump visit
India and the US are discussing at least five MoUs (memoranda of understanding) on issues ranging from trade facilitation to homeland security that are expected to be finalised during President Donald Trump’s visit to the country next week alongside some defence deals.
Despite their inability to finalise a limited trade package before the stand-alone visit during February 24-25, the two sides are looking at the trip to strengthen the bilateral strategic partnership and ramp up cooperation in counter-terrorism, defence, security, trade and energy.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told a news briefing that the two sides are discussing at least five memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on matters such as intellectual property, trade facilitation and homeland security. He said some announcements are also expected on defence deals but declined to give details.
The two sides are expected to ink a $2.6-billion deal for 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters for the Indian Navy and a smaller follow-on deal for six Apache helicopters, people familiar with developments said.
They have made progress in consultations on a $1.8-billion deal for the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) to protect the national capital though it wasn’t clear if the sale would be cleared during Trump’s visit, added the people who declined to be identified.
Indian officials have said the inability to finalise a limited trade package in time for the visit hasn’t dampened enthusiasm to take forward the strategic partnership in diverse areas and to forge a free trade agreement (FTA) at some point in the future.
India has engaged the US in trade talks for some time and hopes to reach an “understanding with an outcome that strikes the right balance for both sides”, Kumar said.
“We do not want to rush into a deal as the issues involved are complicated, with many decisions potentially having real impact on the lives of millions of people and long-term economic consequences. We do not want to create artificial deadlines,” he said.
Responding to Trump’s remarks that India hasn’t treated the US very well in trade, Kumar said trade had grown at more than 10% per annum for the past two years and the deficit had steadily declined. “Our trade will become even more balanced with increasing imports of US oil and gas, and purchase of large numbers of civilian aircraft over the next few years,” he added.
He noted the “unprecedented” support provided to India by the US after the 2019 Pulwama terror attack by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed and American help in the UN designation of terrorists operating out of Pakistan, and said India expects this cooperation to be further strengthened during Trump’s visit. The visit will also allow the two sides to exchange views on regional issues such as the situation in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific.
At the same time, contentious issues such as the H-1B visas and US concerns about data localisation are also expected to figure in the talks. Kumar said India had engaged the US administration and Congress on the movement of Indian professionals and their contributions to the growth of the US economy and in retaining a competitive edge in innovation.
“It is a matter which is very important to us and we expect that the movement of Indian professionals is part of the agenda which could come up for discussion,” he said.
On the civil nuclear front, Westinghouse and India’s NPCIL are in discussions to build six 1,100 MW reactors at Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh. Following the resolution of Westinghouse’s bankruptcy issues, the two sides have talked about the division of work and NPCIL officials have visited the US reference plant to understand Westinghouse’s modular construction methodology.