Business Standard - 22 April 2019
Senior officials of RCEP countries to meet in Bangkok on May 24
Senior officials of the 16-member RCEP group, who are negotiating a mega free trade agreement, will hold meetings in Bangkok from May 24 to iron out issues pertaining to the goods and services sector, an official said.
"It is not a full-fledged round but an inter-sessional meeting, where senior officials would hold detailed discussions on issues of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement," the official added.
The meeting assumes significance as the member countries are aiming to conclude the negotiations by end of this year.
A joint statement issued after a ministerial meeting of RCEP trade ministers in March in Cambodia has said that in order to ensure progress is made towards meeting the leaders’ mandate for conclusion in 2019, the ministers agreed to intensify engagement for the remainder of the year (including by convening more inter-sessional meetings).
The proposed free trade agreement, which is officially dubbed as RCEP, to cover goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights to boost economic ties between the countries.
Although the negotiations have entered the sixth year, negotiations on key issues are yet to be finalised. The member nations have yet to finalise the number of goods over which duties will be eliminated.
RCEP members want India to eliminate or significantly reduce customs duties on maximum number of goods it traded with them. India’s huge domestic market provides immense opportunity of exports for RCEP countries.
However, domestic industries from sectors including metals, pharma and food processing have raised serious concerns over the presence of China in the grouping, with which India has a huge trade deficit.
RCEP bloc includes 10 countries of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and their six free trade pact partners namely Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
India already has a free trade agreement with ASEAN group, Singapore, Japan and Korea. It is also negotiating separate agreements with Australia and New Zealand.