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US defence secretary James Mattis to visit India soon

LiveMint logoLiveMint 31-07-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: In a sign of the Trump administration deepening its ties with India, the two countries are currently planning visits by at least two key members of the US government to India in the next three-four months, besides one by the first daughter Ivanka Trump.

Expected soon in New Delhi are US defence secretary James Mattis and energy secretary Rick Perry. Trump’s daughter Ivanka is to visit India in November for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit likely to be held in Hyderabad.

All these flow from the June visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington to meet President Donald Trump —the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Trump took office on 19 January.

“The Modi visit to the US was extremely successful certainly in the eyes of business—both American and Indian businesses. So you see on the government side, a number of positive, upcoming engagements,” said Khush Choksy, acting president of the US-India Business Council, a business lobby group for Indian and US businesses based in Washington.

“Secretary of defence (Mattis) we understand plans to visit; we would support that robustly. We are looking at the secretary of energy coming out, we are looking at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit... so, a number of high level follow-ons,” Choksy said.

A person familiar with the developments on the Indian side confirmed that India and the US were looking at finalising plans for visits by Mattis and Perry. That Ivanka Trump would travel to India was announced by Trump himself after meeting Modi at the White House last month.

Acting US assistant secretary of state Alice G. Wells has been to New Delhi to take forward the conversation started in Washington by Modi and Trump in June.

Indian officials say these developments speak of the Trump government’s commitment to the India-US strategic partnership. With Trump’s focus on domestic issues like boosting manufacturing at home, job creation and cutting down on immigration, there were apprehensions in India that the new US administration might not accord the same importance to ties with India as the previous Obama and Bush administrations.

According to Choksy, Trump’s plans to rebuild the US manufacturing sector does not conflict with Make in India, Modi’s initiative to double the share of Indian manufacturing in GDP.

“In defence there was a lot of discussions, we have companies interested in the F-16 programme,” Choksy said referring to the recent announcement by US plane maker Lockheed Martin that it had signed an agreement with India’s Tata Advanced Systems to produce F-16 fighter planes in India. Besides this, there was a lot of commercial interest in unmanned aerial vehicle manufacture. “That technology can move from the US to India, reinforcing India’s status as a major defence partner,” Choksy said.

In energy, there was discussion on possible technology sharing related to refining during Modi’s visit to the US, Choksy said, adding this was something the US could share with India.

“US companies are greatly interested in multi-brand retail and the opening up of that sector. US companies are keenly interested in partnerships in the civil aviation area, companies are particularly looking at public private partnerships related to secondary cities and airports coming there,” Choksy said.

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