Amid trade tension, Mike Pompeo visits India next week

The US Secretary of State will be in India from June 25-27

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo | Reuters US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo | Reuters

It will be the first high level exchange that India is having with America since the general elections. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be in India next week from June 25-27. Since the relations between the two countries have been somewhat tense because of trade issues, all eyes will be on this visit. 

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, however, chose to play down any tension. Describing the relations between the two countries as “diverse and deep,’’ Kumar said at a briefing for the media: “There will be issues on the table at all times. We should look at the overall perspective of the relationship, which was positive.”

The visit will be an “important opportunity for both sides to explore ways to further the Indo-US Strategic Partnership, and continue the high-level engagement on matters of mutual interests including bilateral, regional and global issues,’’ said Kumar.

Pompeo is expected to meet Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar, and call on other dignitaries in the government. While Kumar refused to “speculate’’ on what would be discussed, Pompeo, in his address to the Indo-US Business Council, preferred to be clear. On his agenda would be tarrifs, which President Donald Trump has termed unfair. There would also be a push by the US for India to buy defence equipment from them, instead of the S4 100 deal that it has signed with Russia. Iranian oil is also expected to be on his list of discussion points.

What makes the trade situation particularly prickly is India’s stand on data localisation as well as refusing to reduce tariffs on American goods. Instead, India has imposed retaliatory tariffs on American goods after the withdrawal of the GSP. Kumar refused to comment on a news report which suggested that America was mulling putting a cap on H1B visas for companies that chose to store their data in India. “It is a source-based story,’’ he said. “We have not heard anything from the US.’’

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jaishankar, had responded to letters of congratulations sent by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and foreign minister S.M Qureshi. The letters went out on June 12. While Kumar denied that India had asked for talks between the two countries, he was not willing to share the details of the letter. Any suggestion that India was open to talks, was fake news, he said. “There is no change in our position,’’ he asserted. “Pakistan has to take action…which can be verified on the ground. It has to be irreversible.’’ 

Modi in his letter had expressed hopes to improve normal cooperative relations. He had also mentioned that India was committed to the Kartarpur Corridor and hoped it would be all year round. “It was a long pending demand of the devotees,’’ Kumar said quoting from the letter.