The pressure on India to allow the e-commerce sector to be a part of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact is set to intensify with Australia ready to put its weight behind Japan’s demand for its inclusion at the next round of negotiations in Kyoto this week.

“We will certainly support Japan at Kyoto, as we want a separate chapter on e-commerce in the RCEP agreement. We are ready to keep our ambitions low to begin with, but the pact has to have provisions for higher levels of opening up in the future,” an Australia government official told BusinessLine .

The RCEP, which is being negotiated between the 10-member ASEAN, India, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand, has been focussing mostly on goods, services and investments.

Japan, however, floated a paper earlier this year on e-commerce proposing that members take up commitments to give national treatment and non-discriminatory dispensation to digital products and a working group be set up to open up the e-commerce sector.

FDI rules India does not allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in business-to-consumer e-commerce but allows 100 per cent FDI in business-to-business e-commerce. Foreign players, such as Amazon and eBay, are in India in the marketplace model where they do not sell their products but allow a platform to other players to sell their goods.

“We are aware that attempts will be made to include e-commerce formally in the RCEP negotiations at Kyoto. But we will not let the RCEP dictate our domestic policies and will not take on any commitments that go against our country’s interest,” a Commerce Ministry official said. The next round of RCEP talks will begin on June 7 and attempts will be made to wrap up the negotiations by the year-end. With its 16 members, the RCEP is set out to be the biggest regional trade bloc once it is concluded.

The Australian official said that to accommodate needs of countries such as India in the area of e-commerce, it was ready to go slow in the beginning.

“We can accept very low ambitions to begin with in e-commerce. But the chapter should ensure that the sector is opened up substantially at a later time,” the official said.

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