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Trump Can't Decide Whether to Start a Trade War With India

Trump seemed ready to declare another trade war on Twitter. Once he got to the G20 summit, it was a different story.

by David Gilbert
Jun 28 2019, 12:13pm

President Trump appeared ready to start a trade war with India on Thursday when he tweeted that Indian tariffs on U.S. goods are “unacceptable.”

But by the time he sat down with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan on Friday morning, Trump appeared to have changed his mind: he praised Modi and promised the announcement of a “very big trade deal” with the world’s most populous country.

Trump told reporters before he left for Osaka on Wednesday that he would be meeting leaders in Japan, “many of whom have been taking advantage of the United States - but not anymore.” He singled out Modi, tweeting that he would confront the Prime Minister because India has “for years put very high Tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the Tariffs even further. This is unacceptable and the Tariffs must be withdrawn.”

The U.S. last month withdrew tariff-free entry for billions of dollars of Indian goods, and in response, India this month imposed additional taxes on 28 U.S. products like walnuts, almonds, apples, and chemical products.

His tweet contradicted a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who just 24 hours earlier was playing up the close relationship between Washington and New Delhi.

“[The U.S. and India] are friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo said in a joint statement with India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. He added that the current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship.”

By the time Trump sat down next to Modi in front of reporters on Friday morning, his attitude appeared to have changed dramatically.

“Thank you very much for the relationship and the friendship,” Trump said. “And I think we're going to have some very big things to announce. A very big trade deal. We're doing some very big things with India in terms of trade, in terms of manufacturing.”

During their meeting the pair agreed that trade talks would resume “at an early date.” But according to Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, Modi said the retaliatory tariffs were “something that already happened. We should now look forward.”

Cover: President Donald Trump meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)