US President Donald Trump said he would sign a trade deal with Prime Minister Narendra Modi only if it was the "right deal", indicating perhaps that negotiators from the two countries have not found it yet. But the lack of it would not be a trip-breaker.
The president seemed excited about the visit, especially the rally he is expected to address in Ahmedabad together with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mirroring the "Howdy, Modi" event the two leaders addressed in Houston. Trump had asked for this event, according to people close to the discussions, reports Hindustan Times.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump start on a two-day visit to India on February 24, the two sides have said in simultaneous announcements. Ahmedabad is likely to be their first stop, followed by New Delhi and a brief stopover in Agra on the way back to the United States.
A trade deal was seen as the chief goal for the trip when the two sides began planning the presidential trip. But a sense of uncertainty has set in now.
"We wanted to do something, (but) we will see," President Trump said to reporters at the White House, when asked if he is expected to sign a trade deal during the visit. "If we can make the right deal, we will do it."
Trump did not elaborate. But the United States is looking for greater access to the Indian market for its dairy producers and makers of medical devices and some other concessions, for a near-term deal, with the larger and more complex issues of a Free Trade Agreement and others kicked down the road to another time.
Indians, in return, are seeking the restorations of its benefits under a preferential US trade regime called the Generalized System of Preferences, which were terminated by the Trump administration last summer for India's refusal to concede more market access to US companies.
People close to these discussions say "most" of the significant issues have been resolved, but they would not go so far as to declare it done and ready for signing. The trade deal was expected to be the defining achievement of the visit, something akin perhaps to the 2006 civil nuclear deal announced during President George W Bush's visit to India.
But the "right deal" may not be ready in time for the visit, and the president, who has made the pursuit of a better trade deal for the United States a key part of his presidency, appears prepared to go without one and he seemed more excited about the Motera stadium rally and the millions of people he expects to see there.
Trump is expecting to see "5-7 million people" from the airport to the stadium. Speaking to reporters at the White House he seemed to have kept himself abreast with the latest on the stadium — that it was new and was still being built and that it was the largest stadium in the world, which it will be. Having that many people, he joked, would make him "feel not so good" compared to the crowd sizes of 50,000 he is drawing at home.