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India pulls out all the stops for Trump, but no big deal

Walkabout in a cricket stadium, sunset at the Taj Mahal: India rolls out the red carpet for Donald Trump from Monday in a context of intense trade tensions between the two countries.

This trip will be the occasion for a carefully choreographed pas de deux between the American president and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, featuring their personal alchemy against a backdrop of friction caused by their respective protectionisms.

“We are not treated very well by India, but I happen to like Prime Minister Modi a lot,” the White House tenant said this week before his first official trip to India.

Sardar Patel Stadium, the largest cricket stadium in the world, in Motera, near Ahmedabad, on February 21, 2020 in India (AFP – SAM PANTHAKY)

For his two-day visit, during which he will be accompanied by his wife Melania, the Republican billionaire will first go to Gujarat (west), a rich state where Narendra Modi is from and which the Hindu nationalist governed until his arrival. leading the nation of 1.3 billion in 2014.

The real estate magnate and the son of a tea seller will hold a joint meeting in Ahmedabad on Monday in front of more than 100,000 people in the largest cricket stadium in the world, inaugurated for the occasion.

This event, entitled “Namaste Trump” (“Hello Trump” in Hindi), is the Indian’s return of favor to the American president for a similar large meeting between the two men in the United States, “Howdy Modi”, organized in Houston (Texas) last September.

Police on patrol near the Taj Mahal in Agra on February 21, 2020 in India (AFP - Pawan Sharma)

Police on patrol near the Taj Mahal in Agra on February 21, 2020 in India (AFP – Pawan Sharma)

Donald Trump will then go at the end of the day to the Taj Mahal, an emblematic white marble mausoleum built in the 17th century by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and a masterpiece of Indo-Persian architecture. His trip will end with talks on Tuesday in New Delhi.

Beyond the occasional hiccups in the bilateral relationship, India represents a long-term strategic ally for the United States in Asia, which sees in it a potential counterweight to the rise of China in the region.

– Commercial retaliation –

In parallel with its trade standoff with Beijing, the Trump administration last year ended the advantages enjoyed by imports from India, judging that in return American companies did not have sufficient access to the Indian market, historically protectionist.

A poster announcing US President Donald Trump's visit to India on February 18, 2020 in Ahmedabad (AFP/Archives - SAM PANTHAKY)

A poster announcing US President Donald Trump’s visit to India on February 18, 2020 in Ahmedabad (AFP/Archives – SAM PANTHAKY)

This system allowed the South Asian giant to send nearly $6 billion in exports to the United States each year without having to pay customs duties. In retaliation for the American decision, India, described as “king of customs duties” by the impetuous billionaire, raised the entry barriers for dozens of products from the United States.

Indian and American officials have been negotiating a trade agreement step by step in recent months but, for lack of common ground to date, the state visit of the American president should not be the occasion for major announcements.

“Since they failed to reach a trade agreement, Prime Minister Modi will bend over backwards to offer something to Trump, in this case a visit with panache”, analyzes Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution.

The two leaders should sign the contract for the purchase by New Delhi of American military helicopters for an amount of 2.4 billion dollars. In terms of armaments, Russia, India’s traditional partner since the Cold War era, remains the main supplier of military equipment to the second most populous country on the planet.

US Presidents Donald Trump (d) and Indian Narendra Modi during a meeting at the United Nations in New York, September 24, 2019 (AFP/Archives - SAUL LOEB)

US Presidents Donald Trump (d) and Indian Narendra Modi during a meeting at the United Nations in New York, September 24, 2019 (AFP/Archives – SAUL LOEB)

India’s 2018 acquisition of S-400 air defense systems from Moscow has raised eyebrows in Washington, which bans international arms purchases from Russia. However, the US administration has not announced any economic sanctions against India for this transaction.

In general, New Delhi “has handled Trump much better than key US allies such as Japan, Australia and other Western European countries”, estimates Harsh V Pant, expert of the Observer Research Foundation and Professor of International Relations.

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