Modi ‘fantastic’ but duty cuts on Harley-Davidson not enough, says Trump

US President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “fantastic” and “beautiful” man but ratcheted up the rhetoric on bilateral trade, saying he wasn’t impressed by the recent cuts in tariff on Harley-Davidson motorbikes sold in India.

“Now, the prime minister, who I think is a fantastic man, called me the other day. He said, ‘We are lowering it (the tariff on Harley-Davidson) to 50%.’ I said, ‘Okay, but so far we’re getting nothing.’ So we get nothing, he gets 50 (percent), and they think we’re doing — like they’re doing us a favour,” Trump said at a meeting with state governors at the White House.“

“He (Modi) said it so beautifully. He’s a beautiful man. And he said, ‘I just want to inform you that we have reduced it to 75, but we have further reduced it to 50.’ And I said, ‘Huh.’ What do I say? Am I supposed to be thrilled?”

Trump was referring to a phone conversation he had had with Modi on February 8, in which they had discussed Maldives, Afghanistan and a whole range of bilateral issues, including trade. India earlier used to levy a 100% tariff on motorcycles larger than 800cc, but as of this month, the rates have dropped down to a flat 50%. But the duty on Indian motorbikes sold in the US is 0%.

According to reports, Harley-Davidson India has an annual sale of 3,700, but Trump’s claims that Indian motorcycles sell by the “thousands and thousands” in the United States has been called an exaggeration — the US is not among major importers of Indian bikes.

Trump has publicly litigated his case against tariff rates on Harley-Davidsons and his despite his glowing references to Modi, his tone has grown sharper, even as his administration presses India to lower tariff on other goods and remove non-tariff trade barriers.

“So they have a motorcycle or a motorbike that comes into our country — the number is zero. We get zero. They get 100%, brought down to 75; brought down, now, to 50. Okay,” Trump told his governors.

Trump and Modi share a good working relationship, according to officials on both sides, but the US leader is not known to pass up an opportunity to speak his mind. He also likes to quote Modi’s remarks about Afghanistan — the Indian leader, visiting the White House last June, told him that “never has a country given so much away for so little in return” as the United States had in Afghanistan.

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