US President Donald Trump opened a new front in trade tensions with India on Saturday as he complained about “big tariffs” charged by the latter on paper import, even as he continued to litigate his case on Harley-Davidson motorbikes.
“We charge other countries zero tariffs on foreign paper products,” Trump said at a re-election campaign rally in Wisconsin state, on Saturday evening. “When Wisconsin companies exported abroad … China charged us big tariffs, India charged as big tariffs. Vietnam charged us massive tariffs.”
“Unfair,” he added, to boos.
The president has also complained of Indian tariff on whisky before.
It’s paper as well now. India is one of the world’s leading importers of paper, ranging from paper for writing, newsprint, coated paper, napkins, tissues and corrugated paper. The United States is among the top importers. But the volume or value of paper trade between the two countries could not be ascertained immediately.
America’s bilateral and multilateral trading relations have been a top priority for President Trump and he has vowed to renegotiate them, not sparring even close such as Canada, Japan and the European Union, to address what he sees as imbalances, which he has tended to measure mostly by the size of trade deficits.
The Trump administration has targeted India (which had a trade surplus of $24.2 billion in 2018, according to the US trade representative’s office, as well. It slapped a tariff of 25% and 10% on steel and aluminum from India, as with the rest of the world, and intends to, and might, terminate India’s eligibility for a zero-duty government programme at the end of next week.
The President has personally kept up the pressure on India with frequent swipes and attacks in public remarks at conventions and rallies, such as the one in Wisconsin on Saturday. He named India several times as he spoke of his trade agenda, mentioning it along with China, which, has by far received the most mentions from him, and Japan.
He brought up Harley Davidsons again, in this instance because the company was headquartered in Wisconsin. His case remained the same, misleadingly unmatched in relevance to the volume and value of bilateral trade, which is set to cross $140 billion — 84 Harley-Davidsons were imported by India in 2017, worth a measly $1.17 million in comparison. The company sells more there, but those units assembled locally.
But President Trump doesn’t contextualize his remarks, and he didn’t yet again. He claimed company bosses told him they don’t do any business in India, but they were not complaining, he conceded — India charged a 100% tariff on a Harley-Davidson, he said and when they send up their motorcycles the US charges them nothing.
“So I called Prime Minister Modi and said unfair. … he cut it to 50% … but it is not good enough,” the president said, adding, “Look, it’s 50% to nothing.”