NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will be accorded the biggest public reception given to any foreign leader in years during his visit to India beginning on Monday, officials say, one that could help paper over the two countries’ growing friction over trade.
Close political and security partners, India and the United States have hit each other with retaliatory tariffs. Over the past month they have engaged in intense negotiations to produce a mini trade deal, but officials say it remains elusive.
The two sides have been arguing over U.S. demands for access to India’s huge poultry and dairy markets, Indian price controls on medical devices such as stents and stringent local data storage rules that U.S. companies say will raise the costs of doing business.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has sought restoration of trade concessions that Trump withdrew in 2019 and greater access to U.S. markets for its pharmaceutical and farm products. Above all, it says that Trump should not treat India on par with China, whose economy is five times larger.
At an event in Las Vegas overnight Trump gave mixed messages about prospects for a trade deal with Modi.
“We’re going to India and we may make a tremendous deal there. Maybe we’ll slow it down, we’ll do it after the election,” he said.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather in Modi’s political hometown of Ahmedabad to greet Trump for a road show leading to a rally in a cricket stadium with a capacity of over 100,000.
On stage, both leaders will address a bigger version of the “Howdy Modi” rally that they jointly appeared at in Houston to a jubilant crowd of 50,000 Indian Americans last year, where Trump likened Modi to Elvis Presley for his crowd-pulling power.
“From the moment of their arrival at the airport a little before noon on 24th February, the delegates will be treated to a display of famed Indian hospitality and Indias Unity in Diversity,” said Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla.
He said there will be tens of thousands of ordinary citizens as well as artistes showcasing the performing arts from different states of the country as part of the India Road Show.
Trump, who will be accompanied by his wife, Melania, on the two-day trip, has been fascinated with the idea of going to India since his visit to Houston, aides said.
Trump prides himself in having large crowds at his campaign rallies, ranging generally from 10,000 to 20,000 people, and has expressed admiration privately at the size of the crowd awaiting him in India, they said.
MODEST TRADE DEAL
It was possible the two sides could still announce some specific trade measures absent a broader deal, Richard M. Rossow, an India expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told reporters.
“Theres a modest package of things that India could put on the table that I dont think would hurt the governments domestic base so dramatically.”
These could include a further reduction in import tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles that Trump has often spoken about, he said.
The two countries are also expected to announce India’s purchase of 24 SeaHawk naval helicopters from Lockheed Martin in a deal estimated to be $2.6 billion as well as a follow-on order for six Apache attack helicopters.
The United States has become one of India’s top arms suppliers, with $18 billion worth of sales over the last 15 years, edging out traditional supplier Russia.
Trump and Modi are expected to discuss a wide range of issues including trade, 5G telecoms, counter-terrorism, energy security, religious freedom, the rule of law and the importance of the Indo-Pacific region, a senior Trump adminstration official said.
U.S. energy firm Westinghouse is also expected to sign a new agreement with state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India for the supply of six nuclear reactors, kickstarting a long-running project. (Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Kim Coghill)