India will continue to hold bilateral discussions with the 15 countries it is negotiating the mega Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement with, including China and the 10-country ASEAN, to try and ensure that the pact, if implemented, would result in substantial market access for its goods and services.

“Indian officials had a number of intensive discussions with RCEP countries such as China, Thailand, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and ASEAN Economic Ministers at the sidelines of the Trade Ministers’ meet in Beijing.

“It was made clear to all partners that India cannot be part of an agreement that would give its industry and farmers a raw deal. The discussions on what India wants from its partners and what it can give will continue,” a government official said. The 16-member RCEP is keen on meeting the year-end deadline for wrapping up the negotiations for the mega trade pact, but New Delhi has said that it would go for it only if its own demands, in goods as well as services, are met.

“The Ministers highlighted that as growth outlook remains overcast by rising uncertainties, it is in the region’s collective interest and highest priority to conclude a modern, comprehensive, high quality, and mutually beneficial RCEP in 2019, as mandated by the 16 RCEP Leaders,” according to the joint communiqué issued at the end of the two-day RCEP Ministerial meet on Saturday.

India decided to adopt an aggressive posture at the RCEP negotiations following a series of meetings that Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and senior officials of the Commerce Ministry had with industry representatives numbering more than 500.

Chinese imports threat

“Almost all industrial sectors that were consulted, be it steel, engineering goods, pharmaceuticals, textiles, marine goods or automobiles, did not want to be part of the RCEP as they feared that competition from China could hurt them badly if tariffs were to be eliminated or slashed.

“It became very clear then that India should become part of the RCEP only if it is getting a lot of actual market access for its goods and services to compensate for the losses in the domestic market,” the official said.

In his interaction with China’s Vice-Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen, India’s Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan sought market access in both goods and services, including larger exports of drugs, sugar, rice, dairy, soybean, IT and other services.

During the meeting with ASEAN Economic Ministers, the Commerce Secretary stressed on the importance of services trade that supported both trade in goods and investment.

“Since services is an area where the ASEAN is reluctant to make substantial offers under RCEP, India highlighted the importance of higher ambition in the area,” the official said.

As per the joint press statement, annexes on Telecommunication Services, Financial Services, and Professional Services, have been completed, bringing a total number of seven concluded chapters and three concluded annexes, and noted that some of the remaining chapters or annexes are nearing conclusion.

“... Determined to keep the momentum towards achieving the leaders’ mandate to conclude the RCEP negotiations by the end of the year, the Ministers called on all RPCs to find pragmatic and solution oriented approaches to narrow divergence on the various remaining issues,” the statement said.