Donald Trump has claimed India has promised to reduce tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles and other US products and was keen to start trade talks immediately.
Having described the south asian country as a “tariff king”, he told reporters he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had promised to reduce the levies. There was some confusion as to what conversation the president was relating to, as there is no record of an official conversation since last February.
“India charges us tremendous tariffs. When we send Harley Davidsons, motorcycles, other things to India, they charge very very high tariffs,” he said.
“I have spoken to Prime Minister Modi and he is going to reduce them very substantially. He said ‘Nobody ever talked to me’. In other words, we had leaders here – I’m not trying to overly dramatic – we’ve have presidents of the United States and trade representatives, who never spoke to India. Brazil’s another one.”
Mr Trump’s claim that previous US president “did not speak” to India is not true.
The US has been one of many western nations – Britain among them – that have sought to develop closer economic and strategic ties with Delhi.
George W Bush risked controversy when he fully readmitted India to the nation of nuclear powers through means of the 2005 India–United States Civil Nuclear Agreement, signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The deal put civilian nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and in exchange, the US agreed to full nuclear cooperation.
The US had imposed sanctions on India after its weapons testing in May 1998, something Pakistan reacted to with its own tests shortly afterwards and raised genuine fears of nuclear conflict in the region. America’s sanctions on India were dropped in 2001.
Mr Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, also courted India. He travelled to Delhi in 2010 and addressed the Indian parliament, saying: “India isn’t emerging. It has emerged.” The year before, when Mr Singh visited the White House, the US president said he believed two nations’ partnership would be “one of the defining relationships of the 21st century”.
The Hindu newspaper reported in February that when Mr Trump spoke to Mr Modi in an official call, he raised the issue of tariff on Harley Davidson motorbikes. He then told supporters that Mr Modi had agreed to cut the tariffs by 50 per cent.
This summer, when India announced it was imposing tariffs on up to $241m of US goods in retaliation for the duty likely to be charged on steel and aluminium imports, officials in Delhi – unlike in Europe – did not add the iconic motorcycle to its list of targeted goods, which did, however, include almonds, apples and metal products.
At the time, the Washington Post reported Mr Trump was making erroneous claims about Harley Davidson motorbikes being taxed at “100 per cent”, because levies on high-end motorbikes had been reduced to 50 per cent – a change that went into effect in August.
The White House did not respond to enquiries about whether Mr Trump was referring to his February conversation with Modi or one subsequent to that. The Indian Embassy in Washington also did not respond to calls.
Mr Trump finished his remarks about India by returning to the issue of motorbikes and Harley Davidson motorcycles, which in the summer announced it was moving production of motorcycles destined for the European Union to an international factory to avoid EU tariffs.
“India really charges us tremendously highly. On motorcycles, it was 100 per cent. Now that is so high, nobody’s going to buy it. They have already reduced it substantially but it’s too high,” he said.
“My relationship with India is great .. with Prime Minister Modi [it] is great and India is going to start doing a lot.”
He added: “They have already called us to make a deal. We did not call them. They called us, which is shocking to people.”