However, other senior members of the Trump administration, including national security advisor Robert O’ Brien, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and energy secretary Dan Brouillette will visit India, with five pacts likely to be signed covering homeland security, trade facilitation and protection of intellectual property rights.
Lighthizer’s absence — his name is not on the official delegation list — comes after the two sides have been unable to conclude trade negotiations and delinked the deal from the visit of the US President. Lighthizer had earlier dropped out of a visit for negotiations with commerce minister Piyush Goyal prior to the bilateral summit.
‘Do not Want to Rush into a Deal’
Both the US and India have suggested that the deal needs more time as differences still remain and that a larger free trade agreement (FTA) is in the works to unlock bilateral trade potential.
“We can have a trade deal with India, but I am really saving the big trade deal for later on… I don’t know whether we will have it before the election, but we will have a very big deal with India,” Trump had said in Washington.
This was echoed by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which sought to separate the visit from the pact.
“We do not want to rush into a deal as the issues involved are complicated,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. “Many decisions have the potential to impact people’s lives and have long-term economic consequences. We do not want to create artificial deadlines.”
Senior officials had also said that the eventual aim is to have a bilateral FTA and that work is progressing on that.
Indian officials have said that bilateral trade will become more balanced within two years with increased sourcing of oil and gas from the US, and the purchase of a large number of civilian aircraft.
Among the pacts to be signed, an agreement on sharing technology in the energy sector is on the cards during the visit, sources said. Discussions will also be held on accelerating civil nuclear cooperation with a deal between Westinghouse and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) to build six 1,100 MW reactors in Andhra Pradesh.
Besides top officials, Trump’s wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and sonin-law Jared Kushner will also be part of the delegation and will visit Ahmedabad, Agra and the national capital on February 24 and 25.