Jaishankar storms Washington DC with confidence about India-US ties
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar kicked off his first visit to the US capital in his new avatar on Monday saying it is his expectation that the protracted trade dispute with the United States is “resolvable in the fairly near term”, joining a new and growing chorus of positive prognoses on the issue.
India and the United States are in advanced stages of trade discussions with prospects of an early resolution of an issue that has been the most contentious, spanning several governments, but more so since President Donald Trump took office and made trade a top-priority for his administration.
“My sense of it is that most of these are resolvable,” Jaishankar said in his first of a series of back-to-back public and private events, referring to the trade issues under discussion. “In fact, my expectation is that much of it is resolvable in the fairly near term.”
The minister also presented a positive view of India-US ties, saying, “I am overall very confident about both the near-term and long-term future of the relationship.”
Jaishankar arrived in the US capital after a busy week at the United Nations General Assembly debates in New York and a diaspora outreach event at Houston, Texas, headlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Trump, called “Howdy, Modi”, which was attended by an estimated 50,000 people.
Modi and Trump had then held a bilateral meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA at which trade and terrorism were the two top issues of discussion. Both sides had expressed satisfaction with the talks and had reported “significant progress” on the trade front.
The United States is seeking access to India’s dairy market, removal of medical devices from price regulation, rollback of ICT tariffs, and India is seeking re-entry to a zero-duty preferential US trade programme called the Generalized System of Preferences under which India exported $6.4 billion worth of goods to the US in 2018.
The minister meets Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later in the day, which will be their second bilateral meeting. Their first was during Pompeo’s visit to India in June, as the first American official to call on newly re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They also met in New York at the Modi-Trump meet and also at the first ministerial-level meeting of the Quad, an emerging Indo-Pacific arrangement involving India, the US, Japan and Australia. He is meeting other officials as well.
On Wednesday, Jaishankar is scheduled to jointly address a Gandhi anniversary event at the Library of Congress with Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, who is second in line to the US presidency after the vice-president.
And the minister has a string of events at the top think-tanks, where he is a familiar figure from his days as the Indian ambassador to the US five years ago. William Burn, the Carnegie president and former top US state department official, introduced the minister as a “friend”.
In a sign that suggested Jaishankar is storming the US capital with a plan, the think-tanks were asked by the India embassy at the last minute to throw open their events with the minister to a wider audience, from the close-door, off-the-record engagements they were supposed to have been.