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Big ‘if’: Trump says he ‘looks forward’ to India trip while hinting at new trade deal, despite rocky negotiations

Big ‘if’: Trump says he ‘looks forward’ to India trip while hinting at new trade deal, despite rocky negotiations
US President Donald Trump has suggested that Washington and New Delhi could strike a long-anticipated trade deal during his upcoming visit to India, but a new pact is far from a foregone conclusion.

"He's a friend of mine, he's a great gentleman and I look forward to going to India. So we'll be going at the end of the month," President Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday, referring to his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Asked about the prospective trade deal in the works, Trump appeared somewhat optimistic, stating: "They want to do something and we'll see… if we can make the right deal, we'll do it."

India's Ministry of External Affairs expressed a similar sentiment in a missive announcing Trump's February 24 visit, stating it would advance the "global strategic partnership" and strengthen "bilateral ties" between the two countries on a number of issues, including trade.

Also on rt.com Art of the deal? US reportedly pressures India to buy $6bn more American farm produce in exchange for some tariff cuts

Despite high spirits on both sides, the ongoing trade talks reportedly hit a snag late last month over a demand from Washington that New Delhi agree to purchase another $6 billion in US agricultural goods before any deal is finalized.

Trade tensions between the two countries came to a head last year after the US dropped India from its "Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)," a trade mechanism which grants tariff exemptions for a number of favored allies. Though the move was intended to encourage India to open up its markets to certain American products, it had the opposite effect, prompting a series of retaliatory tariffs from New Delhi on dozens of US goods.

While India previously offered to scale back some of those levies, particularly on high-tech products from the States, it has since rescinded the proposal. It remains unclear where Indian trade representatives stand on the question now.

Also on rt.com India’s trade could be boosted by joining the Eurasian Economic Union — but US sanctions on Iran may hamper progress

The US has called on India to drop its tariffs in order to close a $16 billion trade deficit in New Delhi's favor, but Indian officials insist the country is already a major buyer of American energy, and has ramped up defense buys from the US in recent years, amounting to some $17 billion since 2007.

Hoping to set the tone for a broader agreement ahead of Trump's visit and smooth over the wrangling between trade negotiators, however, New Delhi is expected to ink a $2.6 billion deal for helicopters from US arms contractor Lockheed Martin sometime in the coming weeks.

In the same spirit, the US Department of State approved the possible sale of a large air defense package to India. The contract worth nearly $1.9 billion includes surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, radars and sensors, as well as training equipment.

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