NATIONAL

No trade deal during Trump visit a setback: U.S. diplomat

Indian policy direction a matter of concern: Alice Wells

If India and the U.S. cannot achieve a modest trade deal with U.S. President Donald Trump visiting India, it would be a “big setback”, Washington’s top diplomat for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells said.

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer cancelling his trip this week to India has cast doubt on whether a mini trade deal could be completed before the February 24 visit of Mr. Trump. Mr. Lighthizer will possibly visit along with Mr. Trump, The Hindu had reported, leaving open the possibility that a modest agreement could be finalised.

Ms. Wells said if a “tiny phase 1 trade deal” with the U.S. President visiting India could not be achieved, it would be a “big setback”. She was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a United States India Business Council (USIBC) welcome reception for Indian Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu on Thursday evening.

“They continue to try and finalise an agreement,” Ms. Wells said, adding, however, that she could not speak for the Office of USTR and is not privy to the details of the negotiation. She said the U.S. would like to have “a lot more ambitions” for making India part of the global supply chain but that the U.S. experience in negotiating trade was “very painful” and that the policy directions in India — including in the recent Union Budget as well as the e-commerce policy (a draft was introduced in early 2019) — were of concern. Ms. Wells will not be accompanying President Trump to India and neither will Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In response to a question from The Hindu on whether Mr. Trump would offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, Ms. Wells said the U.S. President is aware that India is not interested in mediation.

She stressed that Mr. Trump is “genuinely interested” in how India and Pakistan are managing tensions and “concerned” about the tensions.

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