Financial Express | 24 January 2020
Free trade agreements: Talks with European Union, UK soon, says Piyush Goyal
Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday said India would hold talks with the EU and the UK to forge free trade agreements (FTAs). He, however, insisted that the China-dominated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact, in its present form, is an “unbalanced trade agreement which is really not fulfilling the guiding principles on which it started”.
New Delhi could also clinch a trade deal with Australia — an RCEP member – in the next 6-8 months, having revived talks that were stuck, he said. Formal talks with the UK will likely start after the Brexit, which is expected to be over by January 31.
Speaking at a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) summit at Davos, Goyal also exuded confidence that the Indian economy is well-poised to take off and there is growing enthusiasm among foreign companies to invest in the country. At least four or five companies – some of them are big names – have said that over a half of their total workforce would operate out of India in the coming years, the minister stressed, without revealing the names of the firms.
“Things have once again started showing an uptrend… The economy is well poised to take off from here,” he said. Goyal’s comments assume importance as economic expansion is projected to crash to a 11-year low of 5% in FY20, hemmed in by a collapse in investment growth to just 1%. Analysts are divided over green shoots in the economy, with many predicting a longer-than-usual cycle of slowdown.
Also, world trade is witnessing heightened uncertainties. A trade war between the US and China and a collapse of the WTO’s dispute appellate system have only multiplied challenges for India that has been a staunch advocate of the multilateral trading system.
Commenting on India’s pull-out of the RCEP talks in November last year, the minister said: “RCEP was effectively becoming an FTA between China and India. I don’t think India is ready to engage unless we see better transparency and a greater market access for Indian goods and services on a reciprocal basis.”
India had pulled out of the RCEP talks in Bangkok on November 4 last year on the ground that its key issues, including extra safeguard mechanism to curb irrational spike in imports and tougher rules on the origin of imported products, were not addressed adequately.
Of the 16-nation RCEP grouping, India already has FTAs with the 10-member Asean, Japan and South Korea. However, RCEP was supposed to be more ambitious than its existing FTAs. The presence of China in the grouping had reinforced fears of Indian industry about potential dumping.
Interestingly, India has got an invitation from RCEP members to address its concern in meetings on February 3 and 4 in Bali, the first credible effort by RCEP nations to get New Delhi back at the negotiating table. The invitation has been extended by the Asean secretariat.
On Wednesday, Goyal had said India was working on ways to have fairer and more equitable terms in its trade relationships with various countries.
Even without the RCEP, India’s merchandise trade deficit with China stood at $53.6 billion in FY19, or nearly a third of its total deficit. Its deficit with potential RCEP members (including China) was as much as $105 billion in FY19. Indian industry fears trade deficit would only increase further without adequate safeguard tools and meaningful concessions from others.