Straits Times, Singapore
Iswaran: RCEP will unite region, bring opportunities for all
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief in Delhi
22 June 2019
Singapore’s Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran has said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) can "bring the region together with a far-sighted and high ambition agreement", adding that it would be a loss if India was not part of the pact.
Mr Iswaran was speaking at the Singapore Symposium on Thursday, co-organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
He told the event in New Delhi that RCEP can unite the region and then "create the opportunities for our businesses and our people".
"And I think efforts like this... including the CPTPP, are important at this juncture, in particular, when we see the rise of anti-globalisation... sentiments and... tensions, in particular, between say US and China, which are beginning to pose real challenges to the global multilateral trading system and also supply chains that we have come to take for granted," he said.
CPTPP is the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, formed after the US withdrew from the original TPP.
RCEP is a free-trade deal covering goods, services and investment that is being negotiated between the 10 members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) and India, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.
The agreement, which involves over 30 per cent of the world’s GDP and a quarter of the world’s exports, has been hit by multiple delays in negotiations.
India is concerned that decreasing tariffs for China would lead to Chinese goods flooding the Indian market and widen a trade deficit that hit US$51 billion (S$69 billion) in 2016-17.
Another area of concern for New Delhi centres on getting greater access for Indian skilled workers in the RCEP countries.
Mr Iswaran, who is on a two-day visit to India, responded to a question on Delhi’s concerns after his address: "India can ask itself, is it better off inside such an agreement or outside such an agreement from a business and also from a geopolitical point of view... if India is not part of it, I think it will be a loss."
Mr Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport and Highways as well as Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, noted that India could learn from Singapore, saying: "As the fastest-growing economy, it is important for all of us to learn the development model of Singapore."
India and Singapore have close economic, political and security ties, with regular high-level exchanges. Bilateral trade amounted to $26.4 billion last year.
Mr Iswaran noted these close ties and spoke of how the digital economy posed new opportunities for cooperation, particularly in three areas - trade facilitation, fintech or financial technology, and emerging technologies.
He suggested that trade could be made easier if the nations linked their respective digital platforms so that information can be exchanged more efficiently.
Fintech can be bolstered if they could "revolutionise cross-border instant bank transfers", such as linking India’s Immediate Payment Service and Singapore’s Fast and Secure Transfer (Fast), both of which allow for instant bank transfers.
He also said there was scope for greater dialogue between Singapore and India on regulating data for artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things.