The single-tier system of duty relaxation under the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will be the central issue to be discussed at the meeting of trade ministers of 16 countries, including India and China, in the Philippines on November 4.

Under this system, the RCEP member countries will deliberate on finalising the maximum number of goods on which duties will either be eliminated or reduced drastically.

“This will be a crucial meeting of the RCEP. Members have agreed to a single-tier system of tariff relaxation. So, the discussions would hover around this, besides issues related to services and investments,” an official said.

Prior to the meet, chief negotiators and senior officials of all the 16 countries will discuss the entire gamut of issues on November 3.

RCEP is a mega trade deal that aims to cover goods, services, investments, economic and technical co-operation, competition and intellectual property rights.

As the domestic industry has apprehensions over a deluge in imports from countries such as China after the duty cut under the agreement, India may take certain “deviations” for such countries.

Under deviations, India may propose a longer duration for either reduction or elimination of import duties for such countries.

India already has implemented a free trade agreement with ASEAN, Japan and South Korea. On the other hand, the country is negotiating similar pacts with Australia and New Zealand.

Another source said the meeting takes on significance for India as all the member countries want a higher number of items to be covered under trade liberalisation in goods.

The talks for the pact started in Phnom Penh in November 2012. The 16 countries account for over a quarter of the world’s economy, estimated to be more than $75 trillion.

The 16-member bloc RCEP comprises 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners — India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.