Kerry’s India visit overshadowed by stalled trade talks

New Delhi – Visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met here Friday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed various bilateral issues, in an environment overshadowed by New Delhi’s opposition to a world trade pact and its irritation over American snooping.

Kerry urged Modi during his meeting to resolve at the earliest the row involving India’s refusal to sign a global trade deal, saying it would send a wrong signal, an American official said after the meeting.

“Failure to sign the Trade Facilitation Agreement sent a confusing signal and undermined the very image Prime Minister Modi is trying to send about India,” the U.S. State Department official told the media here.

The World Trade Organization talks, on standardizing customs rules, collapsed Thursday, following India’s demands for concessions on agricultural stockpiling. This has disappointed American officials.

Kerry’s meeting with Modi came a day after he met Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, where both of them discussed the snooping row, among other issues.

In their public pronouncements, both Kerry and Swaraj expressed confidence about improving ties in the near future.

“The moment has never been more ripe to deliver on the incredible possibilities in the relationship between our two nations,” Kerry said. On her part, Swaraj said the two countries were at “an important turning point” and they shared “converging long-term strategic interests”.

However, Swaraj told the media that she had clearly told Kerry that “India considers U.S. as a friend, and friends don’t snoop on one another”.

Experts say that though Kerry’s visit is a “positive step” towards reviving Delhi-Washington ties which strained over last year’s arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York on charges of visa fraud, yet both the countries have much work to do to realise the full potential of the bilateral ties.

“Kerry’s three-day visit to India is intended to make the groundwork for Modi’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in September. It’s the same Modi on whom the U.S. imposed a visa ban in 2005 over his alleged role in the 2002 communal riots off Gujarat,” said Prof Ajay Singh.

The Delhi-based expert added: “In this sense, it’s a positive stride by Washington. But, reports of Washington snooping on this country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party leaders is not something which New Delhi has taken very lightly. A lot needs to be done by the U.S. in this regard.”

Another expert, Prof Rajan Gupta said: “Though both the U.S. and India are interested in bolstering their trade and defense ties, WTO stalled talks and spying rows have become obstacles to President Obama’s vision of a ‘defining’ partnership.”

Modi will meet President Obama in Washington when he visits the U.S. to attend the UN Genral Assembly in New York, but time will only tell if America can win India’s confidence and revive the ties it once shared with this South Asian nation. Source: Xinhua