The upcoming India visit of US President Donald Trump has created a stir among the members of the Indian establishment. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to treat the maiden visit of Trump as a continuation of the Howdy Modi event held in Austin, Texas, in 2019. Trump is keen to seek Modi’s support in garnering the upper-caste Hindu votes of Indian-Americans, a few-million-strong traditional Democrat vote bank. But beyond that, Trump is keen to force Modi to sign a trade deal with the US that will allow the big American corporations to annex those sacrosanct territories of the Indian market where high tariff hitherto kept them at bay despite their arm twisting through the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In 2017, India’s trade surplus with the US stood at $30 billion, which came down to $16 billion in 2019 due to Trump’s anger over India’s tariff policy. Trump mocked India as a “tariff king” and accused it of not providing “equitable and reasonable access to its markets” to the US corporations. On 5 June 2019, Trump terminated the preferential tariffs of $5.6 billion to Indian exports by withdrawing the benefits India enjoyed under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a decision he took in March, however, announced three months later to exert pressure on his “good friend” Modi, who returned to power on 23 May. Even though this decision of Trump regarding the withdrawal of GSP benefits to India, which the latter had been enjoying since the Cold War period, gave a jolt to Indian exports, as according to the Indian Export Organisations, $6.35 billion of merchandise exports from India to the US in 2018 benefited from the GSP scheme, India acted half-heartedly and didn’t show the courage to reciprocate fearing rebuke from Trump.
During his Howdy Modi show at Austin, Texas, Modi tried to cosy up with Trump and even signed several energy deals with the notorious Texas Oil Cartel, yet, it didn’t make the US much happy. For Trump India and China became equally scorn due to protectionism, for which he complained to the WTO to remove the developing status of these countries in August 2019.
“They (WTO) view certain countries like China, India…as growing nations. Well, they have grown and they had tremendous advantages. We’re not letting that happen any more. Everybody is growing but us,” Trump accused. “They (India and China) were taking advantage of us for years and years,” he added while telling that the US won’t need the WTO if it can’t protect its interests.
Now that the US’s Trade War with China reached its peak, with no signs of reconciliation, White House couldn’t keep India at bay because it’s quite imperative as a global outpost to farther US’s military interests in South Asia and the Middle East, apart from encircling China militarily. For the trade dispute, Trump forced Modi to concede the dairy and poultry sectors, with which millions of Indian farmers are connected.
According to a report by Reuters, “India has offered to allow imports of U.S. chicken legs, turkey and produce such as blueberries and cherries, Indian government sources said, and has offered to cut tariffs on chicken legs from 100% to 25%. U.S. negotiators want that tariff cut to 10%. The Modi government is also offering to allow some access to India’s dairy market, but with a 5% tariff and quotas, the sources said. But dairy imports would need a certificate they are not derived from animals that have consumed feeds that include internal organs, blood meal or tissues of ruminants.” (sic)
More than 80 million Indian farmers are associated with the dairy industry and India has been a leading exporter of dairy products. The Indian poultry industry is already crisis-ridden due to the rising prices of rice bran, maize, etc, used as feed for birds. The rising input cost and unscrupulous pricing policies adopted by the big purchasers have burdened the farmers with extensive debts and losses. In such a situation, if the US dairy imports and chicken legs enter India, it will throw a bigger challenge to the Indian farmers, rendering them bankrupt in many places. Tough US competition to the Indian dairy industry will leave a large number of people in the supply-chain in abject crisis. Yet, the Modi regime’s sole goal has been to appease the Trump regime, with which it shares ideological bonds. So much for the sake of nationalism.
Apart from trade concessions and forcefully reducing import barriers, the US president will also see through extending the US-India defence ties, which aims at not only selling obsolete American military technology at a high price to India but also to use Indian territory as a US base to carry forward American imperialist campaigns in South Asia and Middle East. India’s defence deal volume has reached over $20 billion since 2007 and it’s one of the biggest defence markets for the US military-industrial complex, one of the reasons that the US administration overlooks the human rights violations by India in Jammu & Kashmir and the Modi regime’s fascist onslaught against Indian people protesting against its divisive policies.
Trump has successfully detached India from its traditional partner Iran by forcing Modi to stop oil imports from Tehran. It has overseen India’s closer ties with the Wahhabi Saudi Arabian monarchy. The Trump administration wants to outsource the role of securing the US interests in Afghanistan and Iraq after the US troops are withdrawn from these countries. Though India isn’t ready, the Trump administration is persisting on a “bigger role” for India, drawing it in a bloody, long-drawn conflict, which will also drain Indian resources after a period of time and make more enemies for it.
Now the US is keen to see more defence exports to India. India has already sealed two major deals worth $ 3.5 billion with the US. These include the purchase of six Apache attack helicopters for the Indian Army worth $930 million and a $ 2.6 billion mega-deal for 24 MH-60R multi-mission helicopters for the Indian Navy. Earlier, 22 Apache helicopters were sold to the Indian Air Force by the US. According to reports, India is also looking at buying six more P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft worth $ 1.8 billion, the Integrated Air Defence Weapons System worth $1.86 billion, 30 Sea Guardian armed drones worth $2.5 billion and 13 MK-45 naval gun systems worth $1.02 billion.
Though India’s weapon wish list is quite promising, yet, it lacks the capital to acquire them. This keeps the US on its toes. The US is willing to allow India some of its past trade benefits, albeit its unlikely that India will regain access to the GSP scheme, due to the big-ticket defence purchase commitments. The engagement between the US Navy and the Indian Navy will also increase as per the US’s doctrine to curb Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region. This will ensure that Trump will pat Modi’s back even while showing anger over inaccessibility to all Indian markets.
The Indo-US relationship has never been bilateral or equal. It has been a relationship based on the US’s neo-colonial ambitions in South Asia. The obeisance and servility shown by the Indian crony-comprador capitalists to the US and its corporations, often sacrificing India’s interests to promote the US big businesses, caused severe damage to Indian economic independence. After being hostage to Soviet Union’s social-imperialist bondings during the Cold War period, exercised through the so-called commanding heights of the public sector, the neo-liberal economic era, which started in 1992, saw India succumbing to the US pressures, not only in the economic front but also in foreign policy, defence and political fronts. Consecutive governments since Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP government formed in 1998 has helped to strengthen the US’s domination over India. Trump’s visit to India will only strengthen the US’s neo-colonial exploitative control over India and its people. No wonder, the BJP government in Gujarat, Modi’s home state, is building a wall — a thing Trump loves a lot — to keep the poor invisible from His Majesty’s sight. Yet, they aren’t sure how the poverty perpetrated by the US’s neo-colonial loot and plunder of India can be concealed throughout the country?