Business Today | 12 October 2019
RCEP meet to end inconclusive; India may fail to protect local digital data
by Joe C Mathew
The two-day Intersessional Ministerial Meeting of the countries negotiating the 16 nation mega trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, is expected to wrap up on October 12 in Thailand without finding a common stand on many of the pending issues. Attempts to iron out the existing differences will be carried out in the coming days, it is learnt.
The all powerful Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) which consists of the chief negotiators of all the participating countries is likely to meet on October 17 and 18 to look at India’s concerns over electronic data sharing and demands for local data storage requirements.
It should be noted that India had proposed certain tweaks in the negotiating text of electronic commerce during the 9th Intersessional Ministerial Meeting that began in Thailand on Friday, October 11.
India wants the RCEP agreement to allow member countries to retain their rights to protect digital data generated from their respective territories to achieve legitimate public policy objectives and to protect its essential security or national interests. Under such conditions, the country wants the freedom to direct commercial entities to locate their computing facilities within the country itself and stop cross border flow of data generated by them to ensure security and confidentiality of such communications. India’s position is that such decisions should not be allowed to be questioned by other RCEP members on any ground.
While its approach is laudable, experts who are closely watching the developments are not sure whether RCEP members initiating such controls are meant to serve the national interest or essential security concerns. The burden of proof can itself be counterproductive if the national security interest in protecting data is sensitive in nature. Further, there is no certainty that India’s proposal will be accepted by other negotiating countries.
The ongoing RCEP Intersessional Ministerial meeting scheduled to end on 12th October at Bangkok in Thailand is the last ministerial before the political leadership of 16 participating countries meet for the 3rd Leaders’ Summit on November 4th 2019 in Bangkok. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the summit, which may see the conclusion of the ongoing negotiations and an implementation calendar for the mega trade deal.
E-commerce, rules of origin and trade remedies are the only chapters among the 25 chapters of RCEP text that remains to be finalised by the members.
The RCEP negotiations were launched by leaders from 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and 6 ASEAN FTA partners (Australia, People’s Republic of China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and New Zealand).
While India’s official position is that RCEP negotiation will lead to a modern, comprehensive, high quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement among the ASEAN member states and ASEAN’s FTA partners, there are several sections of the domestic industry including dairy sector and automobiles that strongly fear that the deal may harm their interests.