Some facts first! Donald Trump, President of the United States, will visit India on February 24 and 25. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host him in Delhi and Gujarat. The US President's office said the visit will strengthen the US-India strategic partnership and highlight the strong and enduring bonds between the American and Indian people.
The optics of the two-day visit is thus clear.
What is unclear is whether Trump's India visit will end up as an expression of lofty intent and goodwill or result in something more tangible. Big surprises are unlikely, but the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and India's key economic ministries -- the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in particular, is working hard to see if something can be worked out in the next couple of weeks.
What could that be?
Trade Deal: Trump has been hinting at the possibility of a bilateral trade deal with India for some time now. He wants India to import more from the US and reduce its trade surplus in bilateral trade. The US also wants its farmers to export more agriculture produce -- dairy products to exotic fruits to soybean -- to India. Other demands of the US on its agenda are duty cut on products like medical devices by India and easing of norms on data localisation in digital commerce space.
India wants the US to reconsider the recent withdrawal of some duty benefits it has been offering to products exported from India. The country expects the US to provide a more friendly work visa regime to help Indian IT firms. India also wants US companies to invest in India.
A comprehensive deal, which covers all or most of these areas, is impossible. One could perhaps cherry-pick and announce a deal that is very limited in scope. And that is one area where Indian and the US bureaucrats are trying to find a meeting point.
Defence Cooperation: On December 18, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar met their US counterparts in Washington DC as part of the India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.
The outcome of the meeting could well be taken forward during Trump's upcoming visit as both sides had committed to deepen cooperation to address regional and global threats, combat terrorism, coordinate on disaster relief, train peacekeepers, promote transparent and sustainable infrastructure, and advance maritime security. New initiatives on people-to-people ties, exchange programs for parliamentarians and young innovators, judicial cooperation, university research partnerships, etc, were also worked out.
Strategic Announcement: A much simpler option is to make big announcements related to sectors of mutual interests. Partnerships in defence and security can provide a sense of high-value transactions in the making. Since several partnership talks are work in progress, it could even up updates. The External Affairs Ministry's statement, confirming US President's upcoming visit, hinted at several such areas of mutual interests when it talked about significant progress both the countries have made in areas of trade, defence, counter-terrorism, energy, coordination on regional and global issues as well as people-to-people ties. It said the US President's first visit to India would provide the two leaders with an opportunity to review the progress in bilateral ties and further strengthen the strategic partnership.