Japan will take the lead in getting all countries, including India, to sign RCEP agreement: Top official

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on December 13, 2019

New Delhi has sought adequate safeguard to prevent import surges   -  Kagenmi

Member countries should take more time to discuss New Delhi’s concerns, says Japanese chief trade negotiator

Japan wants to take the lead in getting India back into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations and making sure all 16 member countries sign the pact together next year, a top official from the country has said.

“Japan is determined to take the lead in getting all 16 countries, including India, to sign the RCEP agreement together in 2020. When and how is something we will have to discuss,” Akihiko Tamura, Deputy Director General for Trade Policy, Trade Policy Division, Japan, told BusinessLine.

Talks with Goyal

Tamura was in New Delhi this week with the Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama and had discussions with Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and senior officials from the Ministry on how to help increase competitiveness of Indian industry and address the country’s concerns on RCEP.

New Delhi had last month decided to exit the RCEP being negotiated by the 10-member ASEAN, China, India, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. The reason to quit was because its main concerns, many of them related to opening up markets for its key competitor China, remained unaddressed.

The Japanese negotiator conceded that member countries did not spend much time discussing India’s issues before the Bangkok Summit. “Because we were so much focussed on the Bangkok Summit and getting an outcome there that we did not spend enough time on India’s concerns. Maybe we should take more time to discuss India’s issues next year,” Tamura said.

India has already identified a number of problems related to the RCEP framework. It believes that the ‘rules of origin’ (ROO) are very relaxed and would allow Chinese goods, which may be behind higher tariff walls for a longer period compared to goods from ASEAN, to circumvent the duties and flow into India from the shores of the ASEAN nations. As India may have to bring down duties on about 90 per cent of goods traded with the ASEAN to zero per cent, some of it right at the beginning, a lot of Chinese goods could come in duty free.

India has also demanded that the base rate of duty (for calculating tariff cuts) should be 2019 instead of 2014, as agreed earlier and an adequate Auto Trigger Safeguard Mechanism to prevent import surges.

Tamura said while in negotiations it was not possible that 100 per cent of requests get satisfied, his impression was that there was willingness among other countries to talk with India.

“An RCEP with all 16 members will be good for everybody. RCEP is an important platform for Asia. And India is an important player for Asia. So, it has to be part of the platform. It is quite natural,” he said.

Published on December 13, 2019

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