RCEP leaders to call for early conclusion of mega-trade pact

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on November 11, 2018

Prime Minister Narendra Modi   -  PTI

Modi to attend the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore on Nov 14


Members of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), including the 10-member ASEAN, India and China, are likely to call for an expeditious conclusion of the mega-trade pact, instead of committing to a year-end deadline, when the heads of states meet in Singapore this week.

There is no consensus amongst the member-countries agreeing to a package of deliverables by the year-end and hence it is unlikely to be pushed for negotiations on RCEP during the 33rd ASEAN Summit and other related Summits in Singapore this week, three persons, including two diplomats from member-countries, told BusinessLine.

“It looks more or less certain that there won’t be any move at the Singapore Summit to get RCEP members to commit to an agreement by the year-end. However, a time-line might be put in place for completion of the package,” a Delhi-based diplomat of a RCEP member-country said.

Most countries of the 16-member RCEP, which also includes Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, are keen that a ‘package of deliverables’, tentatively agreed to by Trade Ministers in a meeting held in August in Singapore, is in place by the year-end. The package will have four components — markets for goods, services, investment and intellectual property rights.

India opposes move

India, however, opposed the move arguing that there were many issues in the market access of goods, including its commitment to reduce duties for China. New Delhi is also not satisfied with the progress made in services and wants more market access, especially for the movement of professionals and other workers.

“With countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Philippines supporting India’s claim that the time is not right for concluding the pact, other members also realised that further negotiations are required before a deal could be sealed. But most members want it to happen as early as possible,” another diplomat said.

Trade Ministers of RCEP countries are scheduled to meet on November 12-13 to take stock of the negotiations, which will be followed by the meeting of the heads of states on November 14.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the Summit on November 14, while Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu will attend the Ministerial meet preceding the Summit,” a government official said.

New Delhi is also engaged in bilateral negotiations with member countries to determine the extent to which it will open its markets. While the 10-member ASEAN is keen that duties on most lines are brought down to zero, New Delhi wants to be more conservative.

“With the ASEAN countries, India can be adventurous and open its markets for most products barring certain sensitive items and farm products. It has to be more careful with China as it poses tough competition for most sectors in India. New Delhi also wants to be conservative in its offers to New Zealand and Australia with which it does not have any free trade agreement,” the official said.

Once concluded, the RCEP is likely to result in the largest free trade bloc in the world, covering about 3.5 billion people and 30 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.

Published on November 11, 2018

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