In an unusual twist to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) saga, 15 countries decided to go ahead with the trade agreement, giving India the opportunity to join at a later stage after “satisfactory resolution” of its concerns.

“India has significant outstanding issues, which remain unresolved. All RCEP Participating Countries will work together to resolve these outstanding issues in a mutually satisfactory way. India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues,” the grouping said in the Joint Leaders’ statement on Monday after the third RCEP Summit in Bangkok.

Rules of origin, e-commerce, auto-trigger mechanism and trade remedies are India’s key areas of concern. The crucial sticking point for India in RCEP is its trade deficit with China which is feared to increase once the pact is in place. The country has proposed different levels of tariff concessions for China to safeguard its domestic industry from cheap imports. New Delhi has also been pushing to be able to use an auto-trigger mechanism that will allow it to check sudden import surges from China, more than once and also wants to change the base duties besides putting in place strict origin norms to ensure that only imported goods get duty concessions.

“We noted 15 RCEP Participating Countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters and essentially all their market access issues; and tasked legal scrubbing by them to commence for signing in 2020,” the grouping said in the statement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the Summit. The RCEP is a free trade agreement between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and its six FTA partners – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. RCEP negotiations began in November 2012. In 2017, RCEP countries contained 47.6% of the global population, contributed 31.6% to global gross domestic product and 30.8% to global trade.

READ  China wants to pressure the US economy, but the finance sector is probably safe from Beijing

“We have not walked out of RCEP, the doors are kept open for us,” said one trade expert.

As per another expert, the move has given enough elbow room to India to be able to bilaterally resolve its issues with other countries.

“The onus is now on other members. If they are unable to resolve our concerns, we will be out of it,” the second expert said.

Noting that against the backdrop of a fast-changing global environment, the 16-member bloc said in the satement: “The completion of the RCEP negotiations will demonstrate our collective commitment to an open trade and investment environment across the region. We are negotiating an Agreement intended to further expand and deepen regional value chains for the benefits of our businesses, including small and medium enterprises, as well as our workers, producers, and consumers in the region”.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here