Issue :   
July 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         June 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:May' 2018


Irritants in Indo-US ties

M. R. Dua

Narendra Modi and US Defence Secretary
James Mattis in Singapore
Until recently warm and homely Indo-US relations seem to have been hibernating, slowly, but not off the track. What’s apparent is that unless sincere and honest efforts are made the situation may turn knotty and even slip over the wall. US President Donald Trump has been, for quite some time now, limping through a bumpy climate on domestic and political fronts.

We are not sure whether this politically lukewarm, no-act patch in Indo-US ties will get prolonged, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a short trip to Singapore to meet President Trump’s key cabinet member, defence secretary Jim Mattis on the sidelines of the historic Kim-Trump meet. The meeting was held just after the Pentagon renamed its Indo-Pacific Command in a ‘largely symbolic move to signal India’s importance to the US army. During his brief encounter with Mattis he is said to have reviewed top ‘security-related issues of mutual interest,’.

Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman While relationship between India and the US is said to be ‘rooted in shared values of democracy and freedom’, even a tiny silence causes jitters more in Delhi rather than in Washington. This is so because of Trump’s 2016 pre-presidential vow -- ‘India would be the best friend in the White House.’ But, the Trump administration hasn’t made much progress so far, despite being in office for over 20 months. The 2016 Pentagon India-US strategic assurances were on growing importance of India in strategic planning in the region.

In addition, India was granted the ‘major defence partner’ status by President Donald J. Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama for facilitating transfer of technology, and deeper cooperation in the defence sector. The 2016 India-US accord was signed to provide for ‘a crucial logistics defence pact enabling their militaries to use each other’s assets and bases for repair and replenishment of supplies, making joint operations more efficient.’ Of late veritable threats have been looming large on the horizon. India’s Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu, who was in Washington recently for talks on pending trade and tariff issues returned without much success on securing American commitment on the contentious ‘multilateral trading system.’ India’s two senior ministers, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, are likely to go to Washington to continue discussions on defence procurement and tariffs talks.

U.S. President Donald Trump with his officials Since Donald Trump was elected US president 20 months ago, his closeness with Prime Minister Modi has been growing apace. This gave an impression that Modi would succeed in squeezing multiple concessions for India from Trump.

But with Trump’s domestic problems like gun-control, racial discords, immigration, etc., piling up, he has had little room for his promises made to Modi. Also, in recent weeks, the White House was on its toes for the Singapore Kim-Trump summit.

Prime Minister of Canada
Justin Trudeau (R) greeting
U.S. President Donald Trump
during the G7 summit
Also, several US political, economic,defence and security, and diplomatic concerns in Syria, Iran, Russia, China, Iraq, and Afghanistan kept Trump busy.

President Trump’s brief intervention at the G7 Quebec meeting, and his walk-out in a huff and his rebuff to Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau kept him in the global headlines. Trump’s loosely tweeted remarks against Trudeau- “PM Justin Trudeau acted so meek and mild… only to give a news conference after I left saying that ‘US tariffs were kind of insulting’, and ‘he’ll not be pushed around.’”

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has reiterated its demand that India should reduce import tariffs on the American HarleyDavidson motorcycles from 25 per cent, among other products.

Numerous US-India negotiations in Delhi and Washington on trade-policy haven’t made any progress. The US delay in resuming talks has been causing concerns as Indian exports are being hit adversely. India’s move against US’s 25 per cent tariffs on steel and aluminum, strict restrictions on H1B visa, cancellation of spouse visa, and involving World Trade Organization (WTO) in other trade issues have created difficult situation for India’s trade and industry.

Suresh Prabhu Talks with the US on the generalized system of preferences for 3,500 Indian articles, like textiles and chemicals, are also pending. And the Trump Administration is hardening its attitude in trading matters. India also came in for tough talk even at the G7 summit where Trump is believed to have angrily averred: ‘This isn’t just G7, I mean, we have India, where some of the tariffs are 100 per cent. A hundred per cent! And we charge nothing. We can’t do that. He then threatened to stop doing trade with countries ‘who are being unfair to the US.

So, India, beware, this is Trump making America Great again. The crafty, deceitful, cunning New York business tycoon, who had himself resorted to bankruptcy in his own numerous enterprises where he was losing money and incurring massive losses—the winding down of the Trump University at the cost of 35,000 students’ career, for example.

Around middle of June, Trump further escalated tariffs on Canadian, Chinese, Japan, Germany, Mexican, and some other countries. Most of these countries promptly hit back by multibillion retaliatory ‘tit-for-tat response.’ Since the Indo-US bilateral trade recently ticked $126 billion, with a trade deficit for India amounting to around $28 billion, it’s time for India to draw up its own reciprocatary tariff measures. Suresh Prabhu seems to be unequalled India’s negotiating personage with the US trade representatives in Delhi or in Washington.

There’s no time to lapse, lest Indian businesses, and trading community should suffer colossally hazardous consequences. It’s for Prime Minister Modi to use his magic hugging diplomacy on the US president, who’s a veritable winner, and an excellent bargainer !