The White House has provided a great deal of background information on the upcoming trip to India by President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.
WHITE HOUSE – SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks to everyone for joining this call. The topic of the call: This is a background briefing with senior administration officials on President Donald J. Trump’s travel to India.
The briefing is embargoed until 2:30 p.m. and it’s offered on background attributed to a “senior administration official.”
Now, for your information only, we have two senior administration officials with us today. We have [senior administration officials].
Now, please, again, this is on background, attributed to a “senior administration official,” so that will be your information only.
So, at this point, I will turn it over to [senior administration official], who will begin our briefing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hello, and thank you for being here. First, I’ll run through the official delegation for the trip to India. With the President and the First Lady, there will be a 12-person official delegation. That will include:
* Ambassador Ken Juster, the United States Ambassador to of India
* Secretary Wilbur Ross, of Commerce Department
* Secretary Dan Brouillette, of the Energy Department
* Mick Mulvaney, Assistant to the President and Acting Chief of Staff
* National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien
* Ivanka Trump, Assistant to the President and Advisor to the President
* Jared Kushner, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the President
* Stephen Miller, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor for Policy
* Dan Scavino, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor for Digital Strategy
* Lindsay Reynolds, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady
* Robert Blair, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Telecommunication Policy and Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff
And the final member of the official delegation is:
* Stephanie Grisham, Assistant to the President and Press Secretary and Director of Communications for the President and First Lady
And additional bilateral meeting participants include:
* Adam Boehler, Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation
* Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC
* Lisa Curtis, Deputy Assistant to the President for South and Central Asian Affairs
* Mr. Kash Patel, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Counterterrorism
* And finally, Mr. Mike Passey, Director for India, National Security Council
I’ll quickly run through the schedule, give an overview.
The President will arrive in India, in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, on Monday, where he’ll deliver remarks at Sardar Patel Stadium with Prime Minister Modi.
The President and the First Lady will then go with Prime Minister Modi to visit the Taj, in Agra.
They will then fly to New Delhi and rest overnight in New Delhi, and have a full program on Tuesday. This will include ceremonial events, bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister, a business event with Indian investors, with a special focus on companies that are investing in manufacturing in the U.S.
He’ll have a meet-and-greet with embassy staff and a meeting with the President of India. And to cap it off, there will be a state dinner at the presidential palace, called Rashtrapati Bhavan, on Tuesday evening.
And I’ll give just a few overview remarks before we go into the Q&A about what the President hopes to accomplish in this visit.
The President is going to India as a demonstration of the strong and enduring ties between our two countries. These are ties based on shared democratic traditions, common strategic interests, and enduring bonds between our people. And, in part, this has been exemplified by the very close relationship between the President and Prime Minister Modi.
So the visit will focus on several key areas. First, we’ll focus on building our economic and energy ties. Just to note that two-way trade in goods and services exceeded $142 billion in 2018, and there’s certainly much more room to grow, particularly in energy.
The Strategic Energy Partnership that was launched by President Trump and Prime Minister Modi in 2017 has paid major dividends. It’s improved energy security. It’s encouraged the production of more energy. And it’s facilitated Indian imports of U.S. crude oil, LNG, and coal.
And, certainly, India is the fifth-largest economy in the world, has huge energy needs. And the U.S. is ready to help India meet those needs. Indeed, in 2016, U.S. energy exports to India have grown 500 percent to nearly $7 billion.
Second, we will focus on defense and security cooperation to both fight terrorism and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. wants an India that is strong, with a capable military that supports peace, stability, and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.
Indeed, India is a pillar of our Indo-Pacific strategy, and we continue to work together to promote this vision of a free and open international system based on market economics, good governance, freedom of the seas and skies, and respect for sovereignty.
And our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific really goes to the heart of what binds our two countries together, and this is our shared democratic systems that place a premium on citizen-centric governments. In fact, India has a strong foundation of democracy, going back to the early days, right after independence. India is a country rich in religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity. In fact, it’s the birthplace of four major world religions.
Prime Minister Modi, in his first speech after winning the election last year, talked about how he would prioritize being inclusive of India’s religious minorities. And, certainly, the world looks to India to maintain religious liberty and equal treatment for all under the rule of law.
So, to sum up, this visit will build upon our many shared values, our strategic and economic interests, and lock in those gains made in the relationship by the administration over the last three years.
And that concludes my opening remarks. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, Operator, I think we’re ready now to take a few questions.
Q Hi, it’s Andrew Feinberg with Breakfast Media. Thanks for doing this call. Given your remarks just now about your commitment to ensuring religious freedom in India, is the President planning on saying anything to Prime Minister Modi about his government’s attempt to keep Muslim migrants from being able to gain Indian citizenship, or the National Registry of Citizens, which is, some reports are saying, excluding Muslim — people of Muslim descent who have lived in India for many years from retaining their citizenship?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. I think President Trump will talk about our shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom both in his public remarks and then certainly in private. He will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration.
As I talked about, we do have this shared commitment to upholding our universal values, the rule of law. We have great respect for India’s democratic traditions and institutions, and we will continue to encourage India to uphold those traditions.
And we are concerned with some of the issues that you have raised. And I think that the President will talk about these issues in his meetings with Prime Minister Modi and note that the world is looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions, respect for religious minorities. Of course, it’s in the Indian constitution — religious freedom, respect for religious minorities, and equal treatment of all religions in India.
So this is something that is important to the President and I’m sure it will come up.
Q Hi, this is Kathleen Stubbs with the Asahi Shimbun. Thank you for doing this call. My question is: What will be the nature and structure of the press conferences? When might they be scheduled for?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The details will be worked out on the site there. We can’t provide the specific details of the logistics at this time.
Q Hi, this is Mara Lee from International Trade Today. I wanted to see if you all had any thoughts on the likelihood that India’s participation in the Generalized System of Preferences could be restored. I take it there’s not going to be an announcement during this trip, but might there be enough progress to get that done later in 2020?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The concerns that led to the revocation, suspension of India’s GSP access remains a concern for us. And to remind those on the call it was really the failure of the Indian government to provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets in numerous sectors.
We continue to talk to our Indian colleagues about addressing these market access barriers. Our trade teams led by USTR have been in touch with their counterparts over the past several weeks. That engagement will continue.
The trade and economic relationship with India is critically important to the United States, and I think also access to the United States market is critical to the Indian government. We do want to make sure that we get this balance right. We want to address a bunch — a lot of concerns, and we’re not quite there yet.
We will likely have discussion with the Prime Minister about these concerns and continue the discussion beyond this visit.
Q Hi, there. This is Jill Colvin from the Associated Press. I just wanted to be clear: So, do you expect any progress whatsoever on the trade front? Are there specific discussions that are planned? The President had sort of alluded that there could be potentially some progress made.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we have had a number of announcements coming from India in the past several weeks, which are making the discussions a bit more difficult perhaps. Recent announcements on Make in India have made the protectionism concerns in India even greater. So we will be discussing those concerns. And what we see as an increase in barriers, not a decrease, this will certainly come up among the leaders.
Whether or not there will be announcement on a trade package is, really, wholly dependent upon what the Indians are prepared to do. That said, we have a number of significant commercial deals, which are of great significance that we’re very pleased to announce in a number of key sectors.
Q Yes. Hi, this is Adam Behsudi with Politico. Can you say with any more detail on where the sticking points were on some of the trade issues in terms of not being able to come together? Or was it really down to the actions that India has taken in the last couple months and weeks on trade?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think many of the concerns about private sector are well documented. Certainly throughout the GSP process, you had a number of key market access issues raised by stakeholder communities in the United States.
But the Make in India push of the Indian government, as I noted, has made the protectionism concerns even more of a concern to us. We’ve seen India’s budget process recently used to raise tariffs on products of interest in the United States. We continue to see important divergences on e-commerce and digital trade. So it’s a pretty wide scope, frankly, of important service and goods access barriers that we need to address.
Q Hi, this is (inaudible) from The Hindu. I guess my question is to [senior administration official]. Thank you for your comment. I was wondering, should we expect President Trump to offer to mediate on Kashmir again? And will there be any discussion on Afghanistan? There are reports about Indian troops in Afghanistan. Should we expect some sort of request from the U.S. side on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what you’ll hear from the President is very much encouraging a reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan, encouraging the two countries to engage in bilateral dialogue with each other to resolve their differences.
We continue to believe a core foundation of any successful dialogue between the two is based on continued momentum in Pakistan’s efforts to crack down on terrorists and extremists on its territory. So we continue to look for that.
But I think the President will urge both countries to seek to maintain peace and stability along the line of control and refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region.
And with regard to the second part of your question, I think was that on the — what was the second part of your question?
Q The question was on Afghanistan. Will there be an ask for India on that? Will President Trump ask for Indian troops? There are reports about this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right now, the U.S. is focused on the peace process in Afghanistan. You saw there was a major announcement by Secretary Pompeo where we have finalized an understanding with the Taliban to reduce violence in Afghanistan. So we see this as a major step forward, and we’re focused on that.
With regard to India, we would just encourage India, as we are all regional countries, to do whatever it can to support this peace process so that it can be successful and we can potentially end 19 years of military, [DEL: diplomatic, economic :DEL] engagement. You know, that we can end the military engagement. We will be continuing our diplomatic and economic engagement, which has been there over the last 19 years.
But we certainly would look to India to support this peace process — an important country in the region, important to the overall stability of the region. So I think if the issue comes up, that is what would be the request from the President.
Q Hi, this is Alex Lawson from Law360. There was some talk yesterday in the private sector about the potential for some kind of MOU, a memorandum specifically on intellectual property. I know there’s been a number of sort of sticking points in the U.S. business community about pharmaceutical patents in India and some other things.
Do you have any details on what might come on that front during the trip?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t have any specific details on that particular MOU. We’ll be looking at a few handful of agreements on the defense, (inaudible), energy front, but I don’t have any specific details on the MOU that you mentioned.
OPERATOR: We have no other questions at this time.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Well, thank you everyone again for joining us. And again, the backgrounder is from senior administration officials on background. And you’re now — we’ll lift the embargo at this point, and you are free to go ahead.
So thank you very much for your time and help. Bye-bye.