If anybody was expecting fireworks during the Modi-Trump bilateral, they would have been disappointed. Rather the U.S. President, unexpectedly as is his wont, tweeted: “I think we are going to have some very big things to announce, very big trade deal. We’re doing some very big things with India in terms of trade, in terms of manufacturing.”
The briefing by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale at the end of the bilateral left nobody any wiser as to what big trade deal Trump had in mind. Important to note that Modi told Trump the actions India had taken since the U.S. withdrawal of GSP benefits, that this was done and dusted and it was time to look forward. It was agreed that the trade ministers of both countries would meet at the earliest to sort out issues.
“Whether it will be at the level of commerce & industry minister and USTR or we will have technical discussions, that is an issue to be decided,” Gokhale said, “but it was a very productive discussion, a very open discussion and we will take things forward.”
On the issue of 5G, Gokhale said the discussions centred on the technical and business opportunities for cooperation between the two countries. “The prime minister said we are going to be a billion users of this technology … the way India moves or whatever choices India makes will determine the way the global trend will go.”
Gokhale said the prime minister called for a marriage between India’s technological capacity in start-ups and design with Silicon Valley and its role in developing 5G technology for mutual benefit. Trump welcomed the idea and it was agreed that the foreign ministers of the two countries along with their respective technical ministers would continue the dialogue. An early meeting is likely.
Whether the Chinese tech firm Huawei figured in the discussions was not clear but Trump had indicated before the bilateral that “we actually sell Huawei many of its parts, so we are going to be discussing this and also how India fits in … and we’ll be discussing Huawei.”
There was an exchange of views on Iran and oil. Gokhale said that “the prime minister pointed out that although Iran supplies 11 per cent of our energy, India has reduced oil imports from Iran despite the effect it had on the Indian economy.”
Modi referred to India’s broader economic stakes in the region, the presence of a large Indian diaspora and therefore the need for peace and stability. He also pointed to the deployment of Indian naval vessels in the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman to secure the passage of Indian flagged tankers.
“This was appreciated very much by President Trump,” Gokhale noted, “who agreed that both sides should remain in touch on the issue and continue discussions on regional peace and stability.”
Time constraints prevented a more detailed discussion on defence but Trump welcomed Modi’s reference to the potential for cooperation. The S-400 missile defence system India is buying from Russia did not come up but Gokhale indicated that “no one issue is going to impact the larger strategic relationship between India and the United States. This is a relationship which is deep, which is broad, we have some issues we will work through them.”