Hopeful of addressing India’s concerns in RCEP: Indonesian Trade Minister

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The Economic Times - 15 July 2019

Hopeful of addressing India’s concerns in RCEP: Indonesian Trade Minister

NEW DELHI: The Asean troika led by Indonesia had a “fruitful” and “very frank” dialogue with India on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and efforts are on to address Delhi’s concerns ahead of a meeting on the proposed trade agreement in China later this month, Indonesian trade minister Enggartiasto Lukita has told ET.

“Efforts are ongoing to substantially conclude RCEP by end of 2019,” Lukita said after a meeting with commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal here last Tuesday. “We had very good and very fruitful meeting with the Indian commerce minister. The dialogue was frank, open and positive. We will work towards addressing India’s concerns.”

Indonesia is the RCEP coordinator and leads the troika that also comprises Thailand’s trade minister and the Asean secretary general.

“It is not India alone that has concerns over elements of RCEP. Indonesia also has some concerns, which we are trying to address,” Lukita pointed out while stating that he remains hopeful that India’s interests can be safeguarded in RCEP. “This meeting helped in developing better understanding of India’s concerns,” the minister noted.

RCEP is a proposed regional economic integration agreement among the 10 Asean countries and its six free-trade agreement partners—Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea and India.

Intense negotiations are slated for this year with a recently-concluded meeting in Australia and another one scheduled for later this month in China. A ministerial meeting in August will take place in China as the members aim to conclude the mega trade agreement this year.

Lukita and Goyal also explored robust India-Indonesia bilateral trade partnership following directives from the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Osaka, Japan last month. Jakarta is considering to import basmati rice and raw sugar from India, indicated the visiting minister.

ET has leant that India on Tuesday took a tough stance to secure its interests at the ongoing talks for a mega regional agreement with 15 other Asia Pacificcountries including China.

The Indian industry is not convinced if the proposed RCEP trade agreement will be a win-win situation for all, Goyal told the troika.

He termed duty concession issues with China for Indian goods as “particularly problematic” at the RCEP trade pact, and said India has made “asymmetrical sacrifice” in goods in its previous trade pacts, including the one with Asean, according to a statement issued by his ministry.

“The minister was tough when he discussed India’s interests, but he also said the agreement should be balanced overall and everyone must be as constructive as possible,” an official aware of the details of the Asean Troika meeting said.

Domestic textile and automobile industries have cautioned the government to not cede space to China while aluminium and copper industry associations have raised concerns at the likely rise in trade deficit with China due to likely “alarming” spike in imports and a potential threat to the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

“India too has shown significant flexibility during the negotiations and helped to achieve convergence in few important areas,” the commerce and industry ministry said in the statement, adding that two more chapters are close to conclusion, which will take the number to nine of the total 16 chapters.