New Delhi is comparing market access offers made by member countries of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — including the 10-member ASEAN and China — with India’s industry demands in order to frame requests that could result in improved offers from the partner countries.

“This is a crucial phase of the negotiations as seemingly generous offers made by countries could be meaningless if they don’t result in access in areas of importance to a particular country. In our requests to various countries, we will seek market access in sectors that hold potential based on submissions made by our industry,” a government official told BusinessLine .

For instance, New Delhi may want China to improve its offers for items such as engineering goods, pharmaceuticals, optical and medical equipment, rice, marine and dairy products, while for members of the ASEAN-bloc the emphasis would be on items such as gems and jewellery, vehicles and auto-components, organic chemicals and textiles and accessories, the official explained.

Other members of RCEP include Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

The negotiations for RCEP — which once concluded could result in the largest trading bloc in the world with a combined GDP of $21 trillion — is taking place in the request-offer mode where members offer market access to other members based on an initial commitment each has taken on over-all liberalisation of items. Other members submit requests for its improvement and the process goes on till a satisfactory agreement is reached.

Stock-taking exercise The next round of RCEP talks has been scheduled in Brunei from February 15 to 19 and would focus on the offers and requests made by the 16 countries with the aim to wrap up the negotiations after the ASEAN ministerial meet in September, the official said. A stock-taking of the request and offers in the services and investment sector, too, will be carried out in Brunei.

India and China have agreed to remove duties on 42.5 per cent of items for each other. The ASEAN bloc, Japan, South Korea and Australia have decided to eliminate duties on 80 per cent of items for India while New Zealand has agreed to do so for 61.5 per cent of items.

“We have to be careful while framing our requests because if we become too ambitious vis-à-vis particular members, we can’t complain if they too have high expectations of us. So, a balance has to be maintained,” the official said.

It is important for India to negotiate a successful agreement with RCEP members to counter the ambitious US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement involving 12 Pacific Rim which includes six members from the RCEP. The TPP has been finalised but is yet to be ratified by the member countries.

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