U.S.-India trade deal unlikely before Trump's India trip: business group

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a "Hope for Prisoners" graduation ceremony at the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., February 20, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and India are unlikely to reach a limited trade agreement in time for U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to India next week as proposed new Indian tariffs have complicated negotiations, the head of a U.S.-based business group said on Thursday.

Nisha Biswal, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, told reporters that hopes were fading for the two sides to quickly bridge gaps in their efforts to restore some U.S. trade preferences for India and improve access for selected U.S. agriculture products and medical devices to India’s 1.3 billion consumers.

“We’re still hopeful that some kind of agreement could be reached, but we do recognize and acknowledge that both governments have been indicating that is unlikely at this juncture,” Biswal said.

USIBC member companies doing business in and with India had been hoping that more than a year of negotiations would lead to a “confidence-building” agreement that could set the stage for a more comprehensive trade agreement in the future.

Biswal said the group and its parent, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were urging Trump to nonetheless use his Feb. 23-24 trip to work with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “stake out a framework” for how the world’s two largest democracies can increase their trade and investment opportunities, including steps toward liberalizing India’s insurance sector

“We know that American companies see India as a priority market for exports, but also see India as a priority destination for investment and locating sourcing and manufacturing. We would like to see steps that can facilitate that,” she said.

In Las Vegas on Thursday, Trump gave mixed messages about prospects for a trade deal with Modi.

“We’re going to India and we may make a tremendous deal there. Maybe we’ll slow it down, we’ll do it after the election,” Trump said at an event on criminal justice reform. “So we’ll see what happens, but we’re only making deals if they are good deals because we are putting America first.”

In New Delhi, an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said India will not “rush into” a trade deal with the United States, saying there needed to be a balanced outcome.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman