The US President, Donald Trump has concluded his 36-hour India visit. While some may scoff at the theatrics of Sabarmati Ashram and the Agra visit and the absence of a trade deal, which has been Trump’s key priority, the visit benefits both India and the United States. From India’s perspective, the benefits are related to defence and energy and are strategic as well.
Trump’s visit sans a trade deal with India underscores the country’s strategic importance. The United States sees India as a counterbalance to China in the region and the White House press release is a testimony to the fact. The statement talked about the “meaningful Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” as well as strengthening the Quad, which is a group consisting of the US, India, Japan, and Australia. It also talked about Blue Dot Network, which could rival China’s BRI. The mention of Pakistan and terrorist groups based on its soil is another positive development. This might put pressure on Pakistan to act against the terror groups, especially given the hanging sword of the FATF blacklist. The US also supported India’s inclusion into the NSG and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The two countries also talked about boosting defence ties and agreed on an advanced helicopter deal that would expand Indian armed forces’ capabilities. More significant has been the reference to technology transfer that would boost India’s domestic manufacturing and support PM Modi’s Make in India initiative.
Apart from the defence ties, there were also discussions over India’s energy security. India might look at more natural gas and coal imports from the US. There was also reference to nonconventional energy cooperation. The two countries talked about expediting the construction of six nuclear reactors in India. The US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) also announced a $600 million financing facility to support renewable energy generation in India. From India’s perspective, energy cooperation is vital, given its dependence on energy imports and volatile geopolitics in the Middle East.
The two countries could not agree to a trade deal, and President Trump has previously labeled India as a “tariff king.” That said, when it comes to trade, Trump has not used pleasant words for even European and North American allies. Getting better trade terms from trading partners has been Trump’s key priority, and sooner than later, India would have to give some concessions on trade to the United States. But then, the US and India wrangling on trade issues is a positive sign and underscores India’s rising financial clout.