OPN TRUMP MODI1-1582630977276
US President Donald Trump shakes hand with Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, as First Lady Melania Trump stands at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 Image Credit: Bloomberg

It was the kind of trip that begged the question: what was it all about?

US President Donald Trump’s inaugural state visit to India generated much excitement, in the days leading up to his arrival, but it was all for non-imperative reasons.

In a trip that stretched a little under 48 hours, an entire day was taken up by bonhomie, crowd-pleasing speeches, a mandatory visit to the Taj Mahal and a brush with Gandhian values.

You could have said this was soft diplomacy, like a warm hug before the serious business of getting down to hard talks and negotiations and deliberations.

The evident rapport between Trump and Modi cannot be ignored as an aspect of furthering US-India relations, and as the two countries increasingly forge a stronger bond and expand on their mutual areas

- Gulf News

Except the warm hug took up an entire day.

And what were the highlights of Day 2, the remaining day of Trump’s visit?

A by-the-book joint press conference by the US President and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the signing of some entirely foretold trade deals, such as defence deals worth $3 billion, and three memoranda of understanding — including one in the energy sector.

The rest was the stuff of routine.

Clearly, Trump’s visit to India presaged its outcome.

It was, as analysts and observers of all hues kept reminding us, based on an agenda that was about nothing specifically big to begin with — at least not in terms of trade and economic breakthroughs.

That is a matter of concern as US-India trade is a key element to the strengthening of the relationship between the two countries.

US-India bilateral trade stands at $160 billion (Dh587 billion), and that is by no means a plateau number.

For India, the US is the largest trading partner, but the going has been rough for the two in recent times.

The tussle over tariffs and the Trump administration’s decision to end preferential trade status for India last year remain big obstacles, and Trump’s visit did nothing to clear them.

Neither did it offer a firm road map, beyond a vague assumption of greater strategic trade ties in the making.

The evident rapport between Trump and Modi cannot be ignored as an aspect of furthering US-India relations, and as the two countries increasingly forge a stronger bond and expand on their mutual areas of interest in defence, intelligence, counterterrorism, energy and digital safety, the inaugural Trump visit to India left a sense of a huge wave being generated — but one which did not make it to the shore.

More on Trump in India