High on optics, low on trade: India set to welcome Trump

Border Security Force soldiers march on the route that US President Donald Trump will take in Ahmedabad during his India visit. (AP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

High on optics, low on trade: India set to welcome Trump

  • US president to discuss ‘religious freedom’ with PM Modi during maiden state visit

NEW DELHI: A gala welcome awaits US President Donald Trump, who will begin his first official visit to India on Monday after landing in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.

More than 150,000 people are expected to attend the “Namaste Trump” event at a newly built cricket stadium on the outskirts of the city where both the US leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to address a huge gathering.
Later, the US president and his family — wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner — will watch the sun set at the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra.
However, the optics of Trump’s high-octane visit are not enough to hide underlying tensions brewing between the two countries, particularly on the trade front and on New Delhi’s decision to go ahead with its contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
For the past two months, India has faced unprecedented criticism over the CAA, which grants citizenship to minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims.
A White House statement shared by the US Embassy in New Delhi on Saturday said that Trump would raise the “religious freedom issue” in the bilateral meeting between the two heads of state.
“The world is looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions, respect for religious minorities,” the statement added.
Muslims fear that the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) will leave many in the minority community stateless.
“The US should exercise its influence and ask the Indian leadership to withdraw the contentious citizenship legislation. I hope Trump uses his good office to persuade Modi to roll back his majoritarian agenda,” Ovais Sultan Khan, a New Delhi civil rights activist, told Arab News on Saturday.
India’s Foreign Ministry has refused to comment on the matter, saying that Trump’s visit reflects “the renewed and growing intensity of high-level engagements between the two countries.”
The White House statement also said that Trump would “encourage” India and Pakistan “to engage in bilateral dialogue with each other to resolve their differences.”
However, trade issues remain a sticking point between the US and India with Washington seeking a reduction in Indian tariffs to boost business.
India is calling for a restoration of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a preferential tariff system extended by developed countries to developing countries. Last year, Trump revoked the GSP and imposed a high import duty on all goods from India.

HIGHLIGHT

The White House statement said Trump would ‘encourage’ India and Pakistan ‘to engage in bilateral dialogue with each other to resolve their differences.’

Trade in goods and services between the two countries makes up 3 percent of the US total worldwide.
In 2018, the US was India’s second-largest export market (16 percent) after the EU (17.8 percent), and third-largest import supplier (6.3 percent) after China (14.6 percent) and the EU 28 (10.2 percent).
According to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, India’s trade with the US now resembles “in terms of volume, US trade with South Korea ($167 billion in 2018) or France ($129 billion).”
“The concerns that led to the revocation, suspension of India’s GSP access remain a concern for us. We continue to talk to our Indian colleagues about addressing these market access barriers,” the White House statement said.
Experts believe that the US leader lacks the credibility to dictate conditions to India.
“Trump is not in a strong position to raise the issue of religious freedom in India considering his own record in the US. I think a large part of talks between Trump and Modi will be on Afghanistan due to the immediacy of the peace deal between the Taliban and the US,” Prof. Harsh V. Pant, of the New Delhi-based think Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News.
After years of fighting, and 18 months of talks to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban and the US agreed to sign the peace deal on Feb. 29.
However, despite the challenges on trade and other issues, there is a degree of mutual understanding between the two nations, Pant said.
“American presidential visits are all about optics. What is important is that Trump is coming to India in an election year. The India-US relationship has moved beyond the transnationalism that many think Trump embodies,” he said.


Turkey blocks delivery of medical equipment to coronavirus hard-hit Spain

Updated 33 min 18 sec ago

Turkey blocks delivery of medical equipment to coronavirus hard-hit Spain

  • Spain had yet to receive the respirators it had bought from China after Turkey “decided to keep them in case they may need them in their battle against coronavirus”
  • Turkey earlier restricted the export of respirator-related medical equipment in order to meet domestic needs

DUBAI: The Spanish government said on Friday that Turkey had blocked a delivery of medical supplies urgently needed to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the country, local daily El Pais reported.  

Spain had yet to receive the respirators it had bought from China after Turkey “decided to keep them in case they may need them in their battle against coronavirus,” Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said during a press conference.

The newly appointed minister of Spain - which on Saturday has briefly overtaken Italiy as the country with the second-highest number of COVID-19 infections - said the equipment remained in Turkish custody over Ankara’s restrictions on the export of medical devices.

Last month Turkey’s trade minister said the country was restricting the export of respirator-related medical equipment in order to meet domestic needs.

Ruhsar Pekcan said that the export of equipment including ventilators, intubation devices and intensive care monitors would be subject to government authorization.

The Spanish embassy said it had been trying to resume the delivery of the respirators, which were particularly bought by two local communities with critically ill coronavirus patients, according to unnamed sources cited by El Pais.