India is considering a fresh proposal sent by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) members, that include the ASEAN, China, South Korea and Japan, asking it to re-join the negotiations and also indicating that some of the terms laid down by the country when it quit the talks last year may be met, an official has said.
The letter, proposing that India should get back on the negotiating table, was sent by the 15-member RCEP, which also includes Australia and New Zealand, following a meeting of the RCEP Trade Negotiations Committee on April 20-24.
At the negotiating committee meeting, the RCEP countries resolved to try and sort out India’s outstanding issues and also reiterated their intention to wrap up the free trade talks by 2020-end.
“India has received a formal letter from the RCEP asking it to join back the negotiations and also agreeing to certain terms which could help in meeting some of the concerns it raised earlier. The Commerce Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs are, right now, examining the letter and discussing what India’s course of action should be,” a person close to the negotiations told BusinessLine .
The RCEP could be one of the biggest free trade blocs in the world if India joins, accounting for 39 per cent of global GDP, 30 per cent of global trade and 45 per cent of the total population.
India, which was the sixteenth member of the RCEP, had quit the talks in November 2019, as it could not agree on crucial issues including the level of market openings being demanded by members, especially China. New Delhi was being asked to eliminate duties on 80 per cent-90 per cent of its total traded products.
The country was also concerned that the lax Rules of Origin (ROO), which members were not ready to tighten, could allow Chinese products to be routed through other member country markets.
India’s exit was prompted by strong protests from various segments of the Indian industry, farmers groups as well as the dairy sector which complained that eliminating duties for RCEP members on most traded products would spell doom for them.
“A decision to re-join the negotiations cannot be taken casually as India’s exit was a well thought out move directed at protecting domestic industry and farmers. The Commerce Ministry and the MEA may also consult the Prime Minister’s Office after studying the RCEP communication to decide what to do,” the official said.
While several RCEP members including New Zealand, Japan, Australia and South Korea approached India after its exit from the group trying to persuade it to join back, India made it clear that it could not do so till all its concerns were met. Instead, it proposed that member countries should look at bilateral free trade pacts with India.
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