Trump Reports Progress Toward India Trade Deal but No Breakthrough
NEW DELHI — President Trump said Tuesday that he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India had made progress toward what he hopes will be a landmark trade agreement between the two economic giants. But there was no breakthrough to announce after formal talks on the second and final day of the president’s visit.
A joint public appearance between the two leaders was long on florid language about the strength of their relationship and short on concrete results. While Mr. Trump had said before departing the United States that “we may make a tremendous deal there,” the two sides appeared far apart on major points of a trade pact.
“Our teams have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement and I’m optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries,” Mr. Trump told reporters without elaborating.
The two leaders appeared before reporters in the lush garden of Hyderabad House, the iconic building typically used to host foreign leaders, and spoke in front of a backdrop of flags, flowers and fountains.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi celebrated a series of modest agreements that were already set before the visit, including a $3 billion arms purchase and a letter of cooperation between Exxon Mobil and India’s energy sector. They agreed to create a joint counternarcotics working group to reduce opioid abuse.
“We think we’re at a point where our relationship is so special with India, it has never been as good as it is now,” Mr. Trump said. “We feel very strongly about each other and we have done something that is very unique.”
While an administration official told reporters before Mr. Trump left Washington that the president would raise issues of religious freedom with Mr. Modi, he made no mention in their public comments about a wave of policies that have stirred sectarian divisions in India. Among other moves, Mr. Modi’s government has revoked statehood for Kashmir, the majority-Muslim territory, and passed a new citizenship law easing the way for migrants of all South Asian faiths other than Islam.
As the two leaders spoke to journalists, smoke was rising into the sky in a different part of New Delhi, where Hindu and Muslim mobs were battling each other in another day of violence over the citizenship law. The day before, at least seven people were killed in the fighting in the Maujpur district of Delhi, including a police officer.
All of that went unmentioned as the two leaders made a show of Indian-American relations.
Mr. Modi treated Mr. Trump to a rally of 125,000 people at a giant cricket stadium in Ahmedabad on Monday, an event meant to appeal to the American president’s love of crowds and spectacle, and welcomed him to the presidential palace on Tuesday with the roar of saluting guns and an honor guard of red-uniformed soldiers on horseback.
Mr. Trump did gently urge Mr. Modi’s government to respect freedom on the internet, which the Indian government has shut down repeatedly. Talking about the need for secure 5G wireless, the president added that it should be “a tool for freedom, progress, prosperity, not to do anything where it could be even conceived as a conduit for suppression and censorship.”
The president and the prime minister took no questions at their joint appearance before the news media. While Mr. Modi has taken questions from reporters while overseas next to other world leaders, he is the first prime minister in recent memory to not have held any news conferences in India.
Mr. Trump, by contrast, regularly takes questions, and planned to hold a news conference with reporters by himself later in the day.
A trade deal with India has been a priority for two years for Mr. Trump, who would like to have another economic agreement to take onto the campaign trail before the November election. But the two sides have been divided over farm products, medical devices, digital trade and new tariffs. Mr. Trump has complained that India treats the United States unfairly and called Mr. Modi a “tough negotiator.”