The first round of the US-India ‘2+2 Ministerial’ meet is expected to be “stormy one” with New Delhi putting on hold the deal to acquire F-16 fighter warplanes indefinitely even as Washington continues to berate India over steep import tariff on Harley-Davidson motorbikes.
“The 2+2 meet is surely going to be a stormy one. We cannot expect both sides to just smile at each other when so much is going on,” a top official, involved in forming the agenda of the talks, told BusinessLine requesting anonymity.
The US has been eyeing the F-16 programme to bridge its trade deficit with India. US President Donald Trump is also keen on expanding US defence exports to India.
In fact, despite his flagship slogan of ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again’, the US President has not stopped Lockheed Martin from investing in India for setting up a manufacturing plant for building the F-16 fighter planes.
Defence ties zoom
India-US defence ties have reached $15 billion in 2017 from almost nil in 2001.
The Trump administration is pushing India to buy the single-engine F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin which would significantly boost bilateral trade between the countries.
Earlier this month, top-level officials from Lockheed Martin met Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to push the deal again under ‘Make in India’ with a commitment to set up a production line of the fighters with promises of export from the country, added sources.
But last week, Sitharaman made it clear that for now the government will only focus on acquiring its indigenously built Tejas aircraft for the Indian Air Force.
While focus of the 2+2 meeting is going to be defence and strategic, issues concerning trade are also expected to dominate the agenda on both sides, sources said.
The ‘2+2 Ministerial’ meet is going to be a new dialogue mechanism between India and the US which will be co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with their American counterparts Secretary of State and Defence Rex Tillerson and James Mattis respectively.
This is likely to be held on April 19 in Washington, according to sources.