Days after a historic deal was struck at World Trade Organization to ease global trade rules, officials of 16 countries including India and China — with a combined GDP of around $17 trillion and accounting for 40% of global trade — will converge in the national capital to take forward their discussions on a mega-regional free trade agreement (FTA).
The sixth round of negotiations on the complex regional FTA, known as regional comprehensive economic partnership (RCEP), between the 10-member Asean bloc, India, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand will be held in Greater Noida during December 1-5 to liberalise trade of goods and services besides finding ways to boost investment. The aim is to conclude RCEP negotiations by December 2015.
There will also be discussions on co-operation in competition law issues, strengthening implementation of intellectual property rights, standards and technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures, rules of origin (to determine the country of origin of a product), customs procedures and trade facilitation. Besides, there will be talks on measures for the protection of plant, animal and human health.
The 16 countries, in this round of talks, will attempt to fix timelines for ‘initial offers’ to reduce tariffs in goods aiming for a greater slice of their combined market size of over 3 billion people.
Though RCEP member countries have either negotiated or are in the process of concluding an FTA with each other separately, each of the 16 countries will put forward an ‘initial offer’ — a common list of preferential duty concessions for the other 15 nations.
Based on the ‘initial offer’ of every country, the others will then put forward their respective ‘request offer’ to ensure that the items of their interest are included in the initial offer of a given country.
This, in turn, could lead to each country further building up its initial offers depending on the extent to which they can reduce duties after taking into account sensitivities and the benefits they will get in return.
Though the ultimate objective of RCEP is to create a common duty-free market, commerce ministry sources said India will give adequate protection to its sensitive sectors including agriculture (products such as spices, vegetables, fisheries, oils, fruit/nuts, rubber, tobacco), automobile, fisheries, chemicals, petroleum products and textiles in the RCEP agreement, like it had earlier done in FTAs with Asean-member countries, Japan and Korea.