PM to take part in RCEP meet in Singapore

Last Updated 13 November 2018, 18:13 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to highlight New Delhi's flexibility and positive approach on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, when he and his counterparts from the other nations will meet in Singapore on Wednesday.

The leaders are set to review progress in the negotiations on the proposed 16-nation trade deal.

Modi and the leaders of the 15 other nations will meet on the sideline of the annual conclave of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and the East Asia Summit.

The ASEAN and its other partners— China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea— are likely to step up pressure on India to help expedite the negotiations on the deal and conclude it early next year.

“The leaders will review the progress in the negotiations on the RCEP during a meeting on Wednesday. India has been adopting a constructive position in the negotiation for the deal,” Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East) at the Ministry of External Affairs, said.

“I cannot pre-judge the outcome (of the summit) but all I can say is that progress has been made (in the negotiation),” she said, while briefing journalists on the prime minister's visit to Singapore for the ASEAN and East Asian Summits on Wednesday and Thursday.

The government on Tuesday said in New Delhi that India had “defended its interests effectively and secured maximum flexibility” from other nations during the negotiations so far.

Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu joined his counterparts from the 15 other nations participating in the RCEP negotiations for a meeting to review the progress and set the stage for consultations at the level of the heads of state and heads of governments.

The officials of the ministry of commerce in New Delhi said that India had managed to obtain balanced outcomes in application of the “Dispute Settlement Mechanism” mentioned in the chapters of the proposed RCEP agreement on Standards, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessment Procedures and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.

India also showed flexibility on the principle of ‘consensus’ in the proposed agreement's chapter on Institutional Provisions, thus helping in finalizing its draft during the just-concluded meeting of the commerce ministers in Singapore.

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.

The proposed agreement is likely to have 18 chapters, but the negotiators so far could finalize the drafts of the only seven.

India has been resisting pressure from China and the other RCEP nations to bring down or eliminate the tariff on 92% 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 the 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 cautious about committing higher tariff concession for Australia and New Zealand.

The ASEAN and some of the other negotiating nations however of late indicated willingness to accept New Delhi's offer for opening up 83 % of its market.

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

The trade ministers, who met in Singapore on Monday and Tuesday, asked the negotiators to deliberate further on E-Commerce, Competition and Investment chapters where consensus could not be reached during this meeting.

They also called upon the negotiators to intensify their work to narrow gaps and find balanced outcomes in the negotiations with the aim of concluding negotiations by 2019.

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.

(Published 13 November 2018, 15:43 IST)

Follow us on