To sharpen India’s bargaining position in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is being negotiated among 16 countries, the Commerce Ministry has roped in experts from academic institutions and think-tanks to carry out a detailed study of the pact and give their recommendations.

The expert group, from the Centre for Regional Trade, IIM-Bangalore and the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), will also carry out stakeholder consultations, and has been asked to submit its report by January-end, a government official told BusinessLine .

“The idea is to get an independent view on the negotiations from experts who have not been part of the discussions so far. They will carry out a scientific and objective assessment, and their recommendations will be studied by our negotiating team and implemented in the on-going negotiations,” the official said.

The RCEP now has a new deadline of 2019-end for completion.

Several stakeholders are still unsure about the usefulness of the talks, including the Ministries of Steel, Heavy Industry and Textiles.

“With the deadline postponed by a year, India now has enough time to recalibrate the situation and carry out more nuanced negotiations. We have to cover our sensitivities while being aggressive in our areas of strength. The suggestions by the group of experts will hopefully help the negotiators to strike the right balance,” the official said.

Once implemented, the RCEP could be the largest free trade zone in the world as member countries account for 25 per cent of global GDP, 30 per cent of global trade, 26 per cent of global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows and 45 per cent of the total population.

As part of the review, the experts are likely to examine lines of tariffs of all member countries and identify where Indian industry and agriculture need to be protected the most, and where negotiators could be adventurous and aggressive.

India has not yet managed to get substantial offers from other members in the area of services, which is its area of strength. Other RCEP members, however, are pushing India to take up very ambitious commitments in goods such as committing to dismantle import tariffs on 90-92 per cent of items for the 10-member ASEAN, Japan and South Korea and on 80-86 per cent of items for China, Australia and New Zealand.