Pompeo from ‘friendly’ US plays down trade spar with India

The two nations are 'friends who can help each other all around the world,' Michael R Pompeo told a joint news conference on Thursday

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Michael R Pompeo
Michael R Pompeo

New Delhi: US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating better ties, but giving few specifics of how they would overcome disputes over trade and investment.

Pompeo’s India visit comes as the two countries grapple with issues ranging from access to Indian markets for American firms to New Delhi’s demand for foreign companies to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminium to the United States.

The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.

The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship”, Pompeo added. However, any progress on trade would probably be announced at an expected meeting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump at a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Japan this week, economic and political analysts said.

Trade spar beyond Pompeo to resolve?

“If there is going to be some kind announcement on trade, it will come at a Trump-Modi meeting,” said Neelam Deo, founder of the Gateway House think tank in the financial capital of Mumbai.

The trade disputes have led to higher tariffs by both the countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.

In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Wal-Mart, and Amazon.com Inc.

Wal-Mart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart. Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.

Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spar on Wednesday.