India is weighing the pros and cons of joining the trade pillar — one of the four pillars of the 14-member US-led Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) — that it has so far kept out of. It is holding inter-ministerial consultations on the same to get inputs on its various aspects, sources have said.
“India joined three pillars of the IPEF, but stayed out of the trade pillar as the areas covered under it, such as digital trade, the environment, labour and agriculture, are sensitive. However, it has not closed its mind on joining the fourth pillar, and is holding inter-ministerial consultations to see under what terms it could join it in the future,” an official tracking the matter told businessline.
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The Ministries and Departments being consulted by the Commerce Department include Agriculture, Labour, Finance, Environment, Electronics & IT and Finance, the official said.
The IPEF’s launch by US President Joe Biden in Tokyo last year, has been largely viewed as Washington’s attempt at increasing its influence in the Indo-Pacific to counter China, which diplomatically suits India. Apart from the US and India, other members include Australia, Brunei, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The IPEF framework is structured around the four pillars of trade, supply chains, clean energy and tax & anti-corruption, but there there are no provisions for tariff cuts on goods.
At the IPEF Trade Ministers’ meet last September, India stayed out of the joint declaration on the trade pillar on the ground that the “contours of the framework” had not emerged yet, particularly on commitments on the “environment, labour, digital trade and public procurement”.
India is ahead of many developing countries on meeting international protocols in the area of labour and environment, the official pointed out.
“On digital trade, our stance at international forums such as IPEF will be based on our domestic legislation,” the official said.
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However, India is unlikely to take a decision on the trade pillar before the next IPEF negotiation round in Bangkok on September 10-16.
“Although India does not participate in the negotiations on the trade pillar, it is in regular touch with all members on what is taking place. At the inter-ministerial consultations, all line Ministries are checking whether some convergence can emerge with other IPEF members on trade pillar issues, to decide what India’s future stance should be,” the official said.