Trade ministers, chief negotiators to hold series of meetings on RCEP trade pact in Oct

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Business Standard | 28 September 2018

Trade ministers, chief negotiators to hold series of meetings on RCEP trade pact in Oct

(PTI) Trade ministers and senior officials of RCEP member countries, including India and China, will hold series of meetings in October to iron out issues hampering negotiations over the proposed mega trade deal, an official said.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a proposed free trade agreement being negotiated by 16 countries, including 10 Asean members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six free trade agreement partners - India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, since November 2012.

The mega pact aims to relax norms and significantly cut import duties to boost trade in goods, services, promote investments, technical cooperation, and intellectual property rights.

Chief negotiators will meet for a special round of talks in Jakarta from October 6-9, before the meeting of RCEP trade ministers on October 13 in Singapore.

After that, the 24th round of meeting will take place in Auckland , New Zealand from 17-24th October.

"The special round is a kind of preparatory meeting for the ministerial meet," the official, who did not wish to be named, said.

The trade ministers will again meet in November to push the talks.

These meetings assumes significance as several domestic industry sectors, including steel, food processing and metals are raising concerns over the presence of China in the group.

They have stated that lowering or eliminating duties for China will flood Indian markets with Chinese goods.

India already has a free trade agreement with Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations), Japan, and South Korea. And it is negotiating similar pacts with Australia and New Zealand. Besides, India has a trade deficit with 10 countries in this grouping.

Trade experts too have expressed apprehensions that eliminating duties for Chinese goods may further impact domestic industries.

The trade gap with China, Korea, Indonesia and Australia has increased to USD 63.12 billion; USD 11.96 billion; USD 12.47 billion and USD 10.16 billion in 2017-18. It was USD 51.11 billion, USD 8.34 billion, USD 9.94 billion and USD 8.19 billion, respectively, in the previous financial year 2016-17.

"Free trade agreements are not about only giving market access, but also getting that access in other countries. Also, India may not get huge market access in services also," said Biswajit Dhar, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

India is pushing for liberalising norms to promote services trade as the sector accounts for about 55 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu had earlier this month stated that negotiations for the mega-trade deal will continue in 2019 as more rounds of talks are required to sort out issues pertaining to goods and services.

The negotiations have dragged on as the member countries want an agreement over the removal of customs duties on the maximum number of products traded between them. However, countries like India have certain reservations on this as the grouping includes China, with which New Delhi has a huge trade deficit.

India is looking for a balanced trade agreement as it would cover 40 per cent of the global GDP and over 42 per cent of the world’s population.

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