US-India Bilateral Relationship in the Backdrop US President Donald Trump’s Upcoming Visit

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Trump in India – A Review and Commentary on India – US Relations

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Map of India Highlighting Itinerary of Donald Trump's Two Days Visit to India
Map depicting itinerary of upcoming two-day visit of US President Donald Trump to India

The upcoming two-day visit (February 24 and 25, 2020) of the US President Donald Trump in India is reportedly going to be a historical event, and it is expected to catapult the US-India strategic partnership to a new level. Popularly tagged Trump in India, this visit brings to spotlight US and India relations.

It is going to be the first visit of Donald Trump to India after assuming office in 2017. More importantly, it is going to be Trump’s first overseas tour after his Senate acquittal in his impeachment trial. The Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson, Raveesh Kumar, has said that India is eagerly waiting for the US President Donald Trump’s visit as that will strengthen India’s global strategic ties.

Reports say that the US President Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump will first visit Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, followed by Uttar Pradesh’s Agra. Reports say that the ‘Namaste Trump’ event in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad will be of a similar zeal, gala, and grandeur as the ‘Howdy Modi’ event held in Houston in September 2019. The couple will then travel to Delhi in the evening for official reception and bilateral talks.

US and India’s Official Statements on Trump’s Visit to India

White House Statement

In a statement earlier this month, the White House had announced the travel plan of the US President Donald Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump to New Delhi and Ahmedabad with particular emphasis on visiting “Prime Minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat.” This is the first time that a US President is visiting Gujarat directly on tour.

Indian Statement

After the White House’s announcement, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs promptly confirmed the visit with a statement saying: “The global strategic partnership between India and the US is based on trust, shared values, mutual respect, and understanding.” The Indian statement went on to say that under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump, the relationship has further evolved in all areas, including “trade, defense, counter-terrorism, energy, coordination on regional and global issues as well as people-to-people ties.”

How is the US looking at President Donald Trump’s visit to India?

Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, has recently acknowledged that the close partnership between the two countries is growing stronger day by day, and the relationship is going to be even warmer as “Modi hosts Trump later this month.” Alice also said that India is at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region and increasingly becoming prominent in the global stage. That’s why the US is looking “forward to partnering with India at every step of the way.”

Will there be a Trade Deal between India and the US?

Though everyone expected the finalization of a trade deal between the United States and India, US President Donald Trump has downplayed the expectation of such a deal.

Trump said that the US is going to have a very big trade deal with India later but not during his India visit. In his own words: “I don’t know if it’ll be done before the election, but we’ll have a very big deal with India.”

 What are the Pain-Points in the US-India Relationship?

Many experts have started questioning whether the Trump administration’s insistence on lessening trade deficit and negotiating trade demands is jeopardizing the broader Indo-US strategic bilateral partnership, which has been built over the last 20 years.   

The US administration, starting with George W. Bush and continuing under Barack Obama, has stressed on the need for a strategic partnership with India mainly to counter the growing influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, Trump is browbeating publicly over India’s price issues related to walnuts, Harley-Davidsons, and many other trifle matters.

The main problem of the US administration regarding India is well summarized by an India-expert named Ashley Tellis at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ashley has zeroed down the issue to the US administration’s lack of an integrated policy towards India. This lack of an integrated policy has made it open for the US national security officials to have their own views on India’s position in the comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States.

The Obama administration had accelerated the improved bilateral relationship, mainly based upon closer defense cooperation between the two leading democracies of the world. The erstwhile Obama regime had built defense cooperation with an emphasis on naval cooperation along with increased arms sales. This notion of strategic cooperation has remained the guiding force of the strategic partnership between the US and India.

However, this sense of the strategy has crossed paths with the current US trade officials’ obsession with trade deficits, as guided by the US President Donald Trump’s insistence on reducing the gap of trade deficit. In the current Trump regime, the US administration is focused on the narrow list of opening up the Indian market, without addressing the bigger picture of an Indo-US strategic partnership. 

Recent Steps taken by both the US and India before US President Trump’s Visit

Steps taken by the US Administration:

  • The US President Donald Trump has called India “tariff king” along with other epithets. While saying that India hasn’t treated the US very well, Trump stressed his likings by saying, “I happen to like Prime Minister Modi a lot.”
  • Despite his likings for the Indian PM, the Trump administration (United States Trade Representative or USTR) has removed India from the list of preferential developing countries, which are exempt from US CVD (Countervailing Duty) investigations into whether their exports are unfairly subsidized and are likely to harm American industry.  
  • USTR has said that their earlier guiding principles were created in 1998, which have become outdated now. In a federal notice, the USTR has stated that they have now decided to declare a country developed if its share of the world trade is 0.5% or more. As India’s share in global exports in 2018 was 1.67% and that of global imports was 2.57%, the USTR has declared India a developed country and eliminated it from the preferential developing countries’ list.
  • Step was also taken just a week before Trump’s visit to India. It can hardly be considered friendly as it makes India ineligible for preferential treatment in certain global trade practices. When India asked the US about such a decision, and especially its timing, a US insider reportedly said that it would be better to wait until Trump’s two-day visit to India.
  • Donald Trump has mentioned that he is expecting a grand spectacle during his two-day visit to India, as Indian PM Narendra Modi told him. Trump and Modi are expected to inaugurate the Motera stadium (which is going to be the largest stadium in the world). According to the US President, it is still “sort of semi under construction”. Trump said that he is expecting seven million people during his commute from the airport to the stadium. He concluded by saying: “So it’s going to be very exciting.”

From the remarks made by US President Trump, it is virtually confirmed that he hopes for a grand spectacle during his visit to India.Trump’s recent comment also indicates that there will be a modest outcome of deliverables from this two-day visit.  

India has also made it clear that the coveted trade deal is not going to happen anytime soon, leave alone during the visit of the US President. The trade deal is not possible currently as the US insists India to open up its already vulnerable farm and dairy sectors. There are also other contentious issues that the two sides haven’t been able to resolve despite carrying out months of negotiations.  

  • Last week, the US State Department had approved an Indian request of procuring an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System at an estimated cost of $1.87 billion for strengthening its defense ties. The processing of this deal is expected to move forward in the next one-year time.
  • senior US Congressional delegation led by Ami Bera (a Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Asia and Asia Pacific) and George Holding (belonging to the Republican Party) met foreign secretary Harsh Shringla as well as other senior members of the Indian government just days before the scheduled 2-day India-tour of the US President Donald Trump.

Ami Bera has reportedly expressed his concerns regarding the continued detentions of political leaders in Kashmir and urged the Indian government to return normalcy in Kashmir. While talking to the media, the Democrat leader said that he lauds the Indian government’s gesture of allowing the US ambassador to visit Kashmir. However, Ami Bera has also urged the Indian government to take a US Congress delegation to Kashmir.

Steps taken by the Indian Administration:

  • The Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said that a plan of signing an initial agreement (MoU) with the US on IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) had been secured at a cabinet meeting (presided by PM Narendra Modi) on February 19, 2020. The approval comes just days ahead of the US President Donald Trump’s 2-day visit, starting on February 24, 2020.
  • Approving the plan of signing an initial pact on IPR, the Modi government is relenting to the long-term US pressure of strengthening protection for intellectual property, which has long been a leading bone of contention between the two countries during trade talks.
  • India is gearing up to project itself to the US companies as the preferred business destination for investment as the US companies are finicky about the existing IPR-related laws in India.

However, many experts also warn that India should be cautious in dealing with the IPR issue with the US as the latter has tried to pressurize India into dropping the Indian Patents Act’s Section 3 (d) through its Special 301 report. Section 3 (d) of the IPA denies patents on products that are not significantly different from their older versions. India must also be cautious as the US is opposed to manufacturing patented-drugs’ copies in cases of national emergencies (which is allowed by the global trade rules).

  • The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which is headed by PM Narendra Modi, has cleared the procurement of 24 American MH-60R Seahawk multi-role helicopters for the Navy. The proposal of procuring these helicopters (manufactured by the Lockheed Martin group) that are equipped with Hellfire missiles and torpedoes was approved by India’s former defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman last year.
  • To strengthen US-India defense ties, the US State Department had approved to sell these American helicopters along with radars, 10 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and torpedoes last year. The procurement will be done through FMS (Foreign Military Sales) route from the US government. This deal is likely to be signed during the 2-day visit of Trump to India.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs spokesman, Raveesh Kumar, has said that India will not rush into a trade deal with the US that is not beneficial for both the countries. He went on to say that they don’t want to create an artificial deadline on the coveted India-US trade deal.

In a weekly media briefing, the foreign ministry spokesperson said that they are trying to narrow differences with their US counterparts on many issues (especially the US demands for greater market access in both dairy and poultry markets) to reach an understanding “that strikes the right balance for both sides.” 

An MEA spokesperson has also said that five MoU’s and issues regarding H1B Visa are already in place for discussion during Modi-Trump talks on February 25, 2020.

Itinerary of Trump’s Two-day Busy Schedule on his Upcoming India Visit:

The tentative two-day (February 24-25, 2020) schedule of the US President Donald Trump is given below:

February 24

12:00 pm: On February 24, 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will personally receive the US President Donald Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Gujarat. On their 22-km long roadshow on the streets of Ahmadabad to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium, both heads of the state will make a brief stopover at the Sabarmati Ashram to pay tributes to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. The US President will be gifted books, a portrait sketch, and a spinning wheel on MK Gandhi.

Around 12:30 pm: 

Both the leaders will arrive at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium to attend and address the Namaste Trump event, which will feature a public address by the state heads along with cultural performances. Reports say that some Bollywood celebrities might also be present during the event. Around 1.25 lakh people are likely to participate in the grandeur at the stadium.

Around 3:30 pm: The US President and the First Lady will leave for Agra after having the formal lunch, which will be hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Around 5 pm: The couple will tour the Taj Mahal in Agra for around 45 minutes and then leave for Delhi for official reception and bilateral talks.

February 25

10 am: The President of India Ram Nath Kovind and his wife Savita Kovind will receive the US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. 

10:45 am: At Raj Ghat, the couple will pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi.

11:30 am: The couple will arrive at the Hyderabad House and will have a photo session with PM Modi and others. The restricted dialogue will take place after the initial photo op. The expanded delegation-level talk will start after the restricted dialogue. During these talks, the First Lady Melania Trump will visit a model school in Delhi to have a closer look at the education system.

3 pm: As part of the CEO roundtable, US President Donald Trump and his delegation will meet the leading business personalities of India at the US Embassy in New Delhi.

8 pm: The US President Donald Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump will attend the banquet, which will be hosted by the President of India.

Around 10 pm: Both the couple and the entire US delegation will leave for the airport and depart from New Delhi on Air Force One.

US-India Forum: Partners for Growth” – A Full-Day Program to mark US

President’s Visit to India

The US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) has collaborated with FICCI and ORF to organize a full-day “US-India Forum: Partners for Growth” program on February 25, 2020, in New Delhi.

The focus of the discussion will be on the pillars of the US-India partnership regarding the economy, culture, and strategy in the next decade. The program will be attended by more than 500 senior business executives, leading personalities of the Indian Diaspora, and members of the US-India think-tank community.

The discussions will help shape the agenda for the US-India strategic partnership. The main areas that will be discussed during the full-day discussion program are Indo-pacific Strategy and Maritime Security, US-India Defense Partnership, US-India Energy Partnership, Elevating US-India Trade and Investment, and Role of the Indian Diaspora in US-India Relations.


In the last two decades, the US-India bilateral relationship between the two largest democracies in the world has changed dramatically, which is not that common, especially between big and powerful countries.

In the words of Indian diplomat-turned-politician and the current Minister of External Affairs of the Government of India, S Jaishankar, the total number of Indian-Americans has increased by leaps and bounds since independence. The number was around 3,000 in 1949. It  increased to 30,000 by1966 and 300,000 in the 1980s. Currently, the total number of Indian-Americans has swelled to over 3-million, and if it is added with the resident Indians in the US, the amount will catapult to well over 6-million.

Whether it is the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston in September 2019 (where over 50,000 Indian-Americans participated) or the ‘Namaste Trump’ event in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad on February 24, 2020, it reflects a phenomenon that will become dominant in the future when a flow of talent will take place from one geography to another.  

This phenomenon indicates building up of broader processes in the global economy and also about maintaining closer and comfortable ties between the two countries and its people. It is not only a tie among the two biggest democracies but also an integral tie between its people and the varying cultures.

The main reason for this flourishing US-India relationship is based upon the challenges posed by China to both the countries. In this globalized world, both the US and India should understand the realities and come up with a flourishing strategic partnership that is beneficial to all and expand beyond defense ties. The real challenge to both countries is to accelerate the pace and look at the new horizon. As per MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, India is eagerly waiting for President Donald Trump’s visit as it will strengthen India’s global strategic ties.

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