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    Intuit Inc. is reportedly close to a $7 billion deal to acquire personal-finance portal Credit Karma Inc. and beef up its position in the consumer-finance market. The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the talks, reported Sunday that a deal involving cash and stock could be announced as soon as Monday. Intuit makes TurboTax. Buying Credit Karma would be the biggest acquisition in the company’s 37-year history. The Journal said privately held Credit Karma was valued at about $4 billion in a private share sale two years ago. Credit Karma provides consumers with credit monitoring, free access to credit scores, data-breach alerts and tax-filing services. The company gets money by pitching credit cards and loans based on customers’ credit history. Credit Karma is based in San Francisco and was founded in 2007 by Kenneth Lin, its current CEO and others. The Journal said the company considered selling shares to the public, but the IPO market has been marked by disappointing roll-outs more recently. An Intuit purchase of Credit Karma would be merely the latest deal in the financial-services sector. Last week, investment bank Morgan Stanley announced it will buy online brokerage E-Trade Financial for about $13 billion in stock. In January, Visa said it was paying $5.3 billion for Plaid, which lets consumers to link bank accounts to financial-services apps like PayPal and Venmo. Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade are in the midst of their own merger.
  • Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons — two of the fashion world's biggest creative names — will collaborate on Prada collections from Spring/Summer 2021 going forward indefinitely, the designers announced Sunday at a news conference on the sidelines of Milan Fashion Week. Prada, who has been the creative force behind one of luxury’s most successful brands for 30 years, said the new partnership didn't signal an eventual succession. “Don’t make me older than I am,” the 70-year-old designer quipped. Simons, 52, is considered one of the fashion world’s biggest talents, whose future has been the subject of intense speculation since he left Calvin Klein in 2018. He previously was creative director of Jil Sander and Dior, and also has his own eponymous label, which he said would continue. Their first collaboration will appear on the September runway for Spring/Summer 2021. “The contract in theory is forever,” Prada said. “Maybe this is the first time in fashion history that two expert designers who had their own successes in this sector will work together,” said Patrizio Bertelli, the co-CEO of the Prada Group with his wife, Miuccia Prada. The announcement came on a day when the new coronavirus was a growing concern around the fashion capital. Giorgio Armani took the unusual step to show his collection behind closed doors to an empty theater, streaming for the fashion public, as a precaution. The rest of the fashion shows scheduled for Sunday continued as planned. Later Sunday the number of confirmed cases in Italy rose to at least 152 and officials halted the Venice Carnival to try to stop the spread of the virus. Prada said they went ahead with the announcement despite the growing emergency in Italy — where more cases of the COVID-19 virus have been confirmed than in Hong Kong. She said that the globalized world is becoming ever more complex “and we need to work, also if these ugly and difficult things are happening.” The designers said that the collaboration was born out of long mutual respect dating from 2005 when Simons took over as creative director of Jil Sander, which was at the time part of the Prada Group. They both said that the collaboration was also meant as a bulwark against a tendency in the fashion world for creativity to be squelched by business priorities. “I think a lot of creatives in a lot of positions dealing with independent brands and creative directorships feel troubled, feel like the fashion industry is moving more and more toward an industry that might end up excluding creatives,” Simons said. He specified that in the fashion world there are examples of financial success without a strong creative direction. “It is definitely something we question, and we do believe that a collaboration between creatives could re-position that aspect of the whole business,” he said. ___ This story has been corrected to show that the correct title of Patrizio Bertelli is the co-CEO of the Prada Group, not the chairman.
  • The fashion crowd put a defiant face against the spread of a new virus, packing runway shows on the last big day of Milan Fashion Week on Sunday, even as Giorgio Armani made a last-minute decision to stream his latest collection from an empty theater out of concerns for guests' health. Conde Naste artistic director Anna Wintour took her usual spot in the front-row of Dolce&Gabbana across from a gaggle of global social media Tik-Tok influencers, none of whom were deterred by the spreading virus that had put about a dozen northern Italian towns on lockdown. The Italian National Fashion Chamber said in a statement early Sunday there were no indications from health officials that changes in the schedule were called for, adding that it was up to brands to decide if they would go ahead. Only Armani made changes, among nine shows scheduled. Later in the day, Lombard officials closed theaters, cinemas and other places, like discos and pubs where people might crowd, for at least seven days, as confirmed cases in Italy jumped to at least 152. And Venice officials took the step of canceling Carnival celebrations, unprecedented in modern times, in a bid to stop the virus spread. Even as the shows went on, the coronavirus threat cast a strange mood over the Italian fashion capital. Despite pockets of activity around the venues at showtime, the city was more empty than normal for an unusually warm winter Sunday, when people from the surrounding province often come for a stroll or to soak in the fashion week energy. Inside shows, just a handful of people wore protective masks. Asked about the impact of coronavirus on the fashion schedule, Wintour pivoted to the unexpected announcement of a collaboration between creative forces Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada at Prada going forward, calling it ‘’the most inspiring news of the season.’’ “To me that just shows how we can all be much stronger together at a time when things are so politically divisive. The idea of two creative geniuses coming together supersedes other concerns,'' Wintour told The Associated Press after Dolce&Gabbana. The economic impact of the virus on the wider industry remains a concern. At least 1,000 Chinese journalists, buyers and industry insiders couldn't travel from China, which contributes one-third of global luxury revenues in domestic sales and shopping abroad. The Giorgio Armani fashion house announced overnight his runway show on Sunday would be conducted in an empty showroom and streamed for the fashion public on the internet as a ‘’preventative measure decided by Mr. Armani to support national efforts in safeguarding public health.’’ It was the first time the 45-year-old Milan fashion house has taken such a step out of public health concerns, though Armani did stage a show in an empty venue in Paris in 1998 after officials said the big tent posed a safety hazard. At that time, he distributed video of the event to fashion editors, then restaged it in New York to protest what he said had been a decision dictated by fashion world politics and not safety concerns. In streaming, Armani models moved across a dark background, giving contrast to pink, teal and pearl gray silky printed trousers and skirts, while black velvet jackets that blended in with the darkness. The show ended with what notes said was a ‘’message of love for China,’’ where the coronavirus first broke out. Models in glistening, sculpted gowns from archival couture Armani Prive’ collections inspired by China stopped along the runway, while the 85-year-old took a bow to the virtual audience. Empty seats were visible behind him. At Dolce&Gabbana, designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana showed a predominantly black and white collection in a world that is anything but. The looks included many iterations of the brand’s famous black dresses, but this season was distinguished by cozy, enveloping knits in oversized stitching. To underline the artisanal quality, the brand’s knitters and other craftspeople demonstrated their skills in the foyer. Tik-Tocker Anna O’Brien, whose videos empowering curvy women are posted as @glittersandlazers, was thrilled to be in the front row of her first-ever international runway show, virus or no. ‘’Working in this industry, you learn about the hot story, right? And that’s the hot story right now. Is it a threat? Definitely. But is it the only thing that’s threatening the world right now? Not really,’’ said O’Brien, who traveled from Austin, Texas, to Milan. Earlier Sunday, emerging talent Mariana Rosati was preparing models for its morning show of her Tuscan brand DROMe, which has found fans with Bella Hadid and Ariana Grande. Rosati said she didn't believe there was reason to fear, as models sat nearby waiting for hair and make-up. “I am very sorry what is going on. I know it is not predictable and obviously we need to be careful. But I actually think a lot of panic has been spread for not enough reasons,” Rosati said. Though she expected fewer people would show, it was standing room only for the collection meant to inspire sensuality in women with its oversized jackets complemented by body-defining mini-dresses with deep slits that show off knitted underwear with a vintage feel. “Good vibes,” Rosati said. “This morning the news was that people would not show up. They did and that is great.”
  • The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline remained steady at $2.53 per gallon over the past two weeks. Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of the Lundberg Survey said Sunday that the price at the pump averages 9 cents higher than it was a year ago. The highest average price in the nation for regular-grade gas is $3.54 per gallon in San Diego. The lowest average is $2.06 in Jackson, Mississippi. The average price of diesel is $2.98, down three cents.
  • Spanish authorities said Sunday that they have closed airports on the Canary Islands because of a wind storm that is blinding the archipelago with sand and dust. Spain’s airport authorities said that incoming planes have been rerouted to other destinations and no flights are being allowed to leave airports on the islands’ airports. The regional government for the Canary Islands says that wind gusts could reach 120 kph (around 75 mph). Authorities have closed schools for Monday. Television images show palm trees whipping in the wind amid a thick yellow haze enveloping the islands. The storm phenomenon, locally known as “calima,” is capable of lifting up clouds of sand and dust from the Sahara desert and transporting them across the 95 kilometers (59 miles) separating the islands from the African coast.
  • Warning that China’s virus epidemic is “still grim and complex,” President Xi Jinping called Sunday for more efforts to stop the outbreak, revive industry and prevent the disease from disrupting spring planting of crops. Xi defended the ruling Communist Party’s response as “timely and effective” in a video conference with officials in charge of anti-disease work, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Xi sounded a note of caution in the face of hopes abroad that the disease that has killed more than 2,400 people since December might be under control. He said the situation is at a “critical stage” and called on officials to “resolutely curb the spread of the epidemic.” “The current epidemic situation is still grim and complex,” Xinhua cited Xi as saying. “Prevention and control are at the most critical stage.” The ruling party is trying to strike a difficult balance between stopping the virus and reviving China’s vast manufacturing and other industries. Most of the world's second-largest economy has been shut down since late January in the most sweeping anti-disease measures ever imposed and are only gradually reopening. Forecasters say China might rebound quickly if the outbreak can be controlled by the end of March. But they say this quarter’s economic output will shrink by as much as 1% from the quarter ending in December after Beijing extended the Lunar New Year holiday to keep factories and offices closed and told the public to avoid traveling. Concern is growing that the disease might be spreading in South Korea and other countries, instead of only affecting people who visited China and others who had close contact with them. Xi said the epidemic is a health emergency with the “fastest spread” and “most difficult prevention and control” in China since the Communist Party came to power in 1949, according to Xinhua. “For us, this is a crisis and a big test,” Xi was cited as saying. The report made no mention of criticism from members of the public that officials delayed taking action against the disease and might be concealing details its impact, but Xi was cited as saying “all work arrangements are timely” and anti-disease measures are effective. The meeting included officials of the Cabinet and the group headed by Premier Li Keqiang, China’s No. 2 leader, that was formed to oversee anti-disease efforts, according to Xinhua. It said officials from Hubei, the central province where the outbreak began, also participated. Invoking the martial theme the ruling party has given the anti-disease campaign, Xi called on them to “deploy medical forces” to “cut off the source of infection,” especially in the capital, Beijing. At the same time, he said they must help factories and other companies reopen and make sure low-income workers are employed. The president said “low-risk areas” in China should adjust disease-control measures to “fully restore production” while higher-risk areas keep their focus on epidemic prevention. The government previously promised tax breaks, subsidies and other aid to entrepreneurs and farmers to cushion the blow of the most sweeping anti-disease controls ever imposed. Forecasters say it will be at least mid-March before manufacturing and other industries return to normal after the government cut off most access to Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, imposed travel controls nationwide and closed factories, restaurants, shopping malls and other businesses. That disrupted the flow of supplies to farmers and factories. Xi mentioned possible use of monetary policy and more cuts in taxes and fees to support job creation but announced no specific initiatives. “We must promptly solve the outstanding problems that affect spring plowing and organize production, circulation and supply of materials to ensure production does not miss the farming time,” Xi was cited as saying. Local officials previously were ordered to make sure food supplies flow to populous Chinese cities following panic buying after the shutdown of access to Wuhan. Villages have been banned from setting up roadblocks to keep away outsiders and possible infection. The government must “actively organize” production of vegetables, livestock and poultry and “unblock transportation channels,” the president said.
  • The Transportation Security Administration said Sunday it has stopped allowing employees to use the China-owned video app TikTok to create social media posts for the agency after the Senate’s top Democrat raised concerns about potential national security issues. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer sent a letter letter Saturday to TSA Administrator David Pekoske, months after news reports that the U.S. government launched a national security review of the app, which is popular with millions of U.S. teens and young adults. Schumer also cited a Department of Homeland Security policy prohibiting TikTok on agency devices. The TSA said in a statement Sunday that a 'small number of TSA employees have previously used TikTok on their personal devices to create videos for use in TSA’s social media outreach, but that practice has since been discontinued.” In his letter, Schumer said national security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data and personal information, locations and other content. He also noted in the letter that Chinese laws compel companies to cooperate with China’s government and intelligence collection. “Given the widely reported threats, the already-in-place agency bans, and the existing concerns posed by TikTok, the feds cannot continue to allow the TSA’s use of the platform to fly,” Schumer said in a statement to The Associated Press. Over the past few months, the agency has posted a number of videos reshared on other social media platforms such as Twitter, which have amassed hundreds of thousands of views. The agency said it never directed viewers to TikTok or published content directly to the platform, despite videos reposted on other TSA social media accounts having the TikTok logo in the bottom of the screen. The agency said it had an “active and award-winning presence on several social media platforms.” Some of the videos are musical parodies about what can and cannot be brought on an aircraft, while others advertise services like TSA's expedited screening program known as PreCheck. In one of the videos, a TSA spokeswoman with Nutella spread on her face is showing different containers of the chocolate-hazelnut spread to detail which one can be brought in carry-on luggage.
  • Runway shows continued apace on the fourth day of Milan Fashion Week as the itinerant fashion crowd took an analytical attitude toward the cases of the virus from China clustered not far away in northern Italy. Milan city officials closed offices as a precaution as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases grew in an area just an hour outside of the fashion capital. Milan is the capital of Italy's Lombardy region, which reported 39 confirmed cases tied to a single patient. While there was chatter at runway shows and other Fashion Week events about the rapidly spiking infections, health worries remained remote enough. 'For the moment the situation is under control,’’ the president of the Italian National Fashion Chamber, Carlo Capasa, said. ‘’It doesn’t seem to me, in this moment, for what regards our sector, our fashion week, that there are signs of danger,’’ Capasa said. ‘’We are tranquil and prudent.’’ Still, MIDO, the world's largest eyewear industry fair, announced Saturday that it would postpone the gathering scheduled Feb. 29-March 2 until June, due to concerns over the virus. ‘’The evolution of this health crisis under way in our country does not leave any doubt over our decision,'' MIDO president Giovanni Vitaloni said in a statement. Highlights from previews for Fall-Winter 2020-21 womenswear looks: ___ FASHION’S VIRAL ECONOMIC CONCERNS While the virus clusters didn't cause undue health concerns at Milan Fashion Week, fashion houses remain worried about the longer-term economic impact. Chinese consumers at home and abroad are responsible for one-third of global luxury sales. The Italian fashion chamber has already forecast a 2% contraction in first-half revenues. ‘’I think we have to live day by day because it is beyond our control,’’ Ferruccio Ferragamo, son of the late Salvatore Ferragamo, said at the brand's Saturday’s runway preview. ‘’We try to do our best with heart and head, everything in order to get over this.’’ He said the brand is maintaining close contact with its people in China. ‘’I think that if we are very ‘foot on the ground,’ we will benefit later,’’ Ferragamo said. Giorgio Armani also expressed longer-term uncertainty ‘’We don’t know when we will be able to breath a sigh of relief,’’ the designer said. Armani said the challenge for businesses won't end when the virus stops spreading. At that point, a fashion companies will need to renovate stores and ‘’again create enthusiasm among the people,'' he said after the Emporio Armani preview Friday. ___ FERRAGAMO’S ‘’METAMODERN’’ WOMAN The queen, the mother, the lover, the sage, the maiden, the huntress and the mystic. They are the seven Jungian archetypes that inspired creative director Paul Andrew’s newest collection for Salvatore Ferragamo. ‘’I was thinking that here, today, in this modern age, a woman in any given hour is all of those things together,’’ Andrew said backstage. Andrew’s mood board was full of ‘’iconic’’ women who fulfill those roles. They included Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Sharon Stone, in her ‘’Fatal Attraction,’’ iteration, and Wanda Ferragamo, Salvatore’s widow, who helped turn his luxury shoe business into the global luxury brand it is today. The collection brimmed with Italian craftsmanship -- from wavy woven bags made from upcycled left-over leather from the Ferragamo warehouses, to hand-made macramé inserts in an archival botanical print that enhanced the back of a print blouse with eye-catching detail. Trousers were high-waisted, sometimes corseted and other times layered with a built-in side-cinched long skirt on top. Knitwear, worn perhaps as mini-dresses, came embroidered with exotic florals. Leather coats had a light feel and incorporated scarves. The design feature was repeated on sheer dresses and blazers, creating a dramatic effect. And there were strong all-leather pant looks for anyone wanting to star in their own James Bond thriller. The opening and closing looks featured fringe-adorned dresses -- one a shimmering silver fringe skirt over a black sheath, and the other long strands of ribbon trailing from a black strapless number -- that had a polished, shredded effect. Coincidence that it comes just weeks after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shredded a copy of U.S. President Trump’s State of the Union address on live TV? ‘’She’s an incredible woman,’’ Andrew said of Pelosi. ‘’She is powerful, she is strong, she is comfortable with herself. She is everything I admire in a woman.’’ ___ ANNAKIKI REPRESENTS CHINA IN MILAN Annakiki creator and designer Anna Yang filled her Milan runway with a zany collection of expertly constructed, playful silhouettes. As the only Chinese brand originally on the Milan schedule that was able to keep its runway appointment, Yang was ‘’very emotional about the show,'' said an associate, who goes by Meng. ‘’She's worried about public opinion.'' The show was packed, including Capasa in the front row, and her return to making an upbeat and fun collection after a more commercial last season was popular with the fashion crowd. That included a multi-tiered bubble ruffle dress, an overcoat with accentuated sleeves and a bubble skirt finish, and a mini-dress with puffy circular shoulders contrasting with the tightly cinched waist — all in bright hues of pink or orange. For him, there was an oversize tan plaid suit jacket that looked as if it had been mauled, revealing purple undertones. Yang makes all of her accessories and part of her ready-to-wear collection in Italy, and the other half in Shenzhen, China. The collection was mostly complete before the Chinese New Year and in Milan before flights closed. Three other Chinese brands had to pull out of Milan Fashion Week due to travel issues related to the virus. Annakiki's Chinese factory was able to open last week after a three-week closure, Meng said. But business still faces a tough recovery in China, where traffic at 24 monobrand stores has been ‘’down to zero,'' she said. The brand is also available in eight cities outside Asia, including London, Paris and Florence as well as online. ___ MISSONI’S GEOMETRIC MISSION Angela Missoni presented a co-ed collection bursting with youthful touches for mixing and matching. For her, there were light-weight knit tunics with diagonal stripes, worn with dark horizontally striped leggings. Overcoats were oversized and enveloping. Layered cardigans were worn with loose knit pants tucked into boots. Looks were finished with glittery knit gardening gloves, kerchiefs around the neck or Renaissance painter hats. The uniting theme was geometry: stripes of all types, that is horizontal, diagonal, vertical, triangular and patchwork. For him, geometric patterns clashed on a clean silhouette: a knit top of tiny bursts, patchwork pants and houndstooth overcoat covered with triangle patches. Sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid closed the Missoni show, side-by-side, fittingly for the brand that is still firmly in family hands. ____ ERMANNO SCERVINO’S FEMININE BEAUTY Lace and embroidery lent beauty to Ermanno Scervino’s ever-light creations for next fall and winter. Strong floral embroidery, white on black, gave a Nordic edge to belted overcoats and ponchos, and a couture touch to puffer coats. Sequins became a glam daytime office look on a green asymmetrical skirt paired with a knit turtleneck. Pretty transparent pleated skirts were worn over sequined layers for a pretty impact. Slip dresses ranged from leather and lace combos in black to white-on-white embroidery. Beautiful golden lame suits will light up any holiday party next season. ‘’It’s an unconditional celebration of beautiful femininity,’’ Scervino said in show notes.
  • Debris has been found in the fuel tanks of 70% of grounded Boeing 737 Max jets that have been inspected by the company, Boeing confirmed on Saturday. Inspectors found the debris in 35 out of about 50 jets that were inspected. They are among 400 built in the past year that Boeing hasn't been able to deliver to airline customers. Boeing temporarily halted production last month because the planes were grounded after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people. Although debris hasn't been linked to those crashes, metal shavings, tools and other objects left in planes during assembly can raise the risk of electrical short-circuiting and fires. On Tuesday the company had said debris was found in “several” planes but it did not give a precise number. The debris was discovered during maintenance on parked planes, and Boeing said it immediately made corrections in its production system to prevent a recurrence. Those steps include more inspections before fuel tanks are sealed. “This is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated on any Boeing aircraft when it’s delivered to the customer,' the company said in a statement Saturday. Boeing previously said the issue does not change the company’s belief that the Federal Aviation Administration will certify the plane to fly again this summer. A Boeing spokesman cautioned against applying the 70% to all 400 jets, saying there's no way to know how many have the same problem until they're all inspected. An FAA spokesman said the agency knows that Boeing is inspecting undelivered Max planes and said the agency has increased surveillance. The number of planes with debris was reported Friday night by The Wall Street Journal. Max jets were grounded around the world last March. Boeing is testing updated flight control software that will replace a system that has been implicated as a cause of thecrashes. The system activated before the crashes based on faulty signals from sensors outside the planes. It pushed the noses of the aircraft down, triggering spirals that pilots were unable to stop. While investigators examining the Max accidents have not pointed to production problems at the assembly plant near Seattle, Boeing has faced concerns about debris left in other finished planes including the 787 Dreamliner, which is built in South Carolina.
  • American dairy farmers, distillers and drugmakers have been eager to break into India, the world’s seventh-biggest economy but a tough-to-penetrate colossus of 1.3 billion people. Looks like they’ll have to wait. Talks between the Trump administration and New Delhi, intended to forge at least a modest deal in time for President Donald Trump’s visit that begins Monday, appear to have fizzled. Barring some last-minute dramatics — always possible with the Trump White House — a U.S.-India trade pact is months away, if not longer. “I’m really saving the big deal for later on,” Trump said this week. “I don’t know if it will be done before the election, but we’ll have a very big deal with India.’’ The U.S. presidential election is Nov. 3. For now, the failure to reach a deal, despite the pressure of an approaching summit, may reflect not so much the differences between Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the similarities. Both men are fierce nationalists who favor protecting their own producers over opening their markets to foreign competition. “You’ve got two leaders who are looking at trade very much as a zero-sum game,’’ said Richard Rossow, a specialist in U.S.-India relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Long notorious for high trade barriers and a cumbersome bureaucracy, India had for the past two decades or three decades been slowly reforming and opening its economy. Under Modi, that trend has reversed. Regarded as a business reformer when he took office in 2014, Modi has increasingly turned protectionist, matching Trump’s “America First” example with “India First” policies of his own. “U.S. behavior on the trade front has pushed India in the opposite direction of where we could like it to go,’’ Edward Alden, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told reporters Friday. One of Trump’s first acts was to withdraw from a 12-country Asia-Pacific free trade pact negotiated by the Obama administration. Similarly, Modi last year abandoned another Pacific Rim trade agreement, worried that India would be overwhelmed by Chinese imports. Modi may be even more sensitive about exposing Indian companies to foreign competition because his country is in an economic slump. The International Monetary Fund last month scaled back its expectation for India's growth this year to 5.8% from the 7% it had expected back in October. Indian loan companies, struggling to collect on bad debts, have reduced lending, thereby squeezing Indian consumers. The Trump administration escalated the pressure on India last year by denying some of its products preferential duty-free entry to the American market. In effect, that move raised tariffs on Indian imports. The administration is annoyed by a deficit in the trade of goods with India that last year reached $23.3 billion. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative last year argued that India had failed to provide assurances that it would give U.S. products “equitable and reasonable access” to its markets. The thinking was that India would make concessions to regain its duty-free benefits. But India hasn’t yielded yet. “We had hoped that India would respond with a little more urgency,’’ said Roger Murry, senior policy adviser at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Negotiations between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and India's commerce minister, Piyush Goyal, seemed to be advancing until about a week ago. Yet they failed to bridge their differences. “I would have thought they would have been able to pull off a mini-deal,’’ said Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, an India specialist at the consulting firm McLarty Associates. “It seems there are a lot of sticky issues.’’ One irritant is that just as negotiators were scrambling to conclude an agreement, India this month made another lurch toward protectionism. It issued an annual budget that raises import taxes on everything from cheese to shoes to toy tricycles. The two sides have also squabbled over access to India’s dairy market. A predominately Hindu nation, India prohibits, on religious grounds, dairy imports that do not derive from cows that have been raised on vegetarian diets. The U.S. dairy industry argues that such restrictions are scientifically unnecessary and burdensome. The administration has complained, too, about Indian restrictions on imported medical devices. In 2017, Indian officials imposed price controls on coronary stents and knee implants, forcing American companies to sell those products at a loss. U.S. distilleries also have a big stake in a more open Indian economy. India is by far the world’s largest market for whiskey. In 2018, Indian drinkers downed nearly 1.7 billion liters of whiskey, worth $25 billion, accounting for half the world's consumption and out-drinking Americans by a factor of three, according to Euromonitor. But facing 150% tariffs on imported spirits, U.S. distilleries sold just $7 million worth whiskey to India in 2018, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. “There is no doubt that India has turned protectionist during the last two to three years,” said Columbia University’s Arvind Panagariya, a former Indian government official and a specialist in India’s economic policymaking. “And that is surely making matters more difficult by hardening Indian positions.’’ Still, Modi puts a high value on a strategic partnership with the United States, especially in the face of an increasingly assertive China. For that reason, he may be willing to make trade concessions for stronger ties with Washington. “I remain optimistic about an agreement in due course,’’ Panagariya said. But Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he was discouraged by the failure of negotiators to reach a modest, confidence-building deal before the Trump-Modi summit. “The ambitions were small to begin with,’’ Dhume said. “If a presidential visit cannot force these two countries to get over a small speed bump, that really does not augur well’’ for a more ambitious trade agreement. ___ Follow Paul Wiseman on Twitter at @PaulWisemanAP