Toward a U.S.-India Reset: Pivoting Trade and Strategy Together
As the U.S.-China trade war goes further south, India must step up to the big table quickly. U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plan to meet this month on the sidelines of the 2019 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). As noted at their G-7 summit meeting last month, the two leaders will prioritize trade issues. However, the meeting that will matter more may happen before UNGA — between India’s new Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer — as it could change the course of U.S.-India trade ties like never before.
India needs to accept that it lives in a new reality — and change its strategic calculus accordingly. In 2017, the Trump administration elevated India’s importance in its “Indo-Pacific” vision — a means to balance China’s “infrastructure investments and trade strategies [when used to] reinforce its [repressive] geopolitical aspirations” in the region. While this also serves India’s geostrategic purpose, it does not preclude President Trump from labeling India as a “tariff king.” Unlike the past U.S. administrations, the grand promise of the world’s fastest growing large economy as a democratic counterweight to China will not be enough to sober the Trump administration’s hawkish stance on free, fair and reciprocal trade.