Modi to seek 'balanced outcome' at RCEP talks

Modi to seek 'balanced outcome' at RCEP talks

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a "balanced outcome" of the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, when he and 15 other Asia-Pacific leaders meet in Manila on Tuesday.

The leaders of India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand will meet their 10 South East Asian counterparts in the capital of Philippines on Tuesday to add momentum to the negotiations for the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. This is going to be the first meeting at the level of the Heads of the States and Governments after the RCEP negotiations was launched five years ago.

"India remains a very committed participant to the RCEP negotiations. We look forward to a balanced outcome that undertakes and takes care of all pillars, including goods, services and investments," Preeti Saran, Secretary (East) at the Ministry of External Affairs, told journalists in New Delhi ahead of the prime minister's visit to the Philippines.

Modi will leave for Manila on Sunday to attend the 15th Asean-Indian Summit, which will be hosted by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on the sideline of the 31st summit of the Asean (Association for South-East Asian Nations). He will also attend the 12th East Asia Summit and the meeting of the RCEP leaders during his stay in Manila.

The prime minister is likely to stress that RCEP negotiations should lead to an "equitable, inclusive and balanced" trade agreement, which will do "equal justice to manufacturing, services and investment sectors", a senior official said in New Delhi.

The RCEP is a proposed agreement between the Asean nations – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines – and the six other countries, which already have separate trade deals with the 10-member South East Asian bloc.

India has been resisting pressure from China and the other RCEP nations to bring down or eliminate the tariff on 90% of the traded items.

New Delhi is ready to give higher tariff concession to 10 South-East Asian nations as it already has free trade agreements in both goods and services with Asean. India, however, is reluctant to open up its market so much for China in view of the growing deficit in its bilateral trade with the communist country. New Delhi is also cautious about committing higher tariff concession for Australia and New Zealand.

India is also concerned over the reluctance of other countries to make commitments for substantially opening up the services sector under the proposed RECP agreement.

"I am sure when the leaders at the level of Heads of State and Governments will meet, we will get further direction on how to move (the negotiations on the) RCEP forward," said Saran.

If signed, the RCEP would cover 16 Asia-Pacific nations with a total population of 3.4 billion people and a total Gross Domestic Product of $49.5 trillion. The proposed deal seeks to bring together the economies that account for 39% of the world's GDP.

The negotiation for the RCEP was launched in November 2012, as a potential counterweight to the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, which was initiated by the US, but excluded China and India. The negotiation for the TPP, however, suffered a setback earlier this year after the US withdrew from it soon after the change of guard in Washington.

A meeting of the trade ministers of RCEP nations in Manila in September failed to narrow down differences, not only on bringing down tariffs on traded items, but also on issues related to data protection and Intellectual Property Rights regime. Though the negotiators are unlikely to meet the previously set target of finalising the agreement by the end of the year, the meeting of the Heads of the State and Heads of the Nation in Manila is expected to add momentum to the talks on the proposed trade deal.

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