India has proposed RCEP business visa card to ensure hassle-free movement of businessmen in the 16 countries of the grouping under the mega trade deal, negotiations for which are likely to be concluded next year. The 16-member bloc Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is negotiating a mega trade agreement that aims to cover goods, services, investments, economic and technical co-operation, competition and intellectual property rights. Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also indicated that the negotiations might not conclude this year and move into the first half of 2018.
The members have aimed at concluding the negotiations, which started in 2012, by end of this year. Talking about the visa issue, she said: “We have actually given a proposal for RCEP business card. So we have proposed that for business people like APEC member countries have APEC business cards, similarly, we have asked for RCEP members.”
Such cards are issued only after thorough security clearances. She told reporters that negotiations on services, a key area of interest for India, are not picking pace. Trade ministers of 16 countries, including India and China, recently met in Vietnam to take stock of the negotiations. Meanwhile, the commerce ministry in a statement said that while considerable progress had been made, several areas still required to be negotiated to finality.
In the Vietnam meeting, the minister has urged member countries to work towards liberalisation across all modes of services, including movement of professionals, in line with the RCEP guiding principles. On Mode 4, (movement of professionals) and RCEP travel/business card, India strongly emphasised its position and the importance of these areas in facilitating temporary movement of professionals.
Sitharaman pointed out that a selective approach to the detriment of services would not be in the best interest of RCEP negotiations, “and would be failing to acknowledge, promote and protect the strength and mutually beneficial nature of the current relationship”. Indian companies with limited expatriate presence had created over 100,000 local jobs in the RCEP countries.
The 19th round of talks is being organised by India in July in Hyderabad.
In goods, as the domestic industry has apprehensions over a deluge in imports from countries such as China after the duty cut under the agreement, India wants certain deviations for such countries. Under deviations, India has proposed a longer duration for either reduction or elimination of import duties. Although countries like Australia and New Zealand are stressing that all the countries should reduce or eliminate duties on over 90 per cent of goods traded among RCEP nations.
Talking about services negotiations, the minister informed that talks in this area are not keeping pace with the progress in goods. India wants the member nations to abide by the commitments already made in the services sector and then move forward in the RCEP talks.
Elaborating on this, an official said there are apprehensions that certain countries may tighten their visa regimes amid increase in global protectionism. “Position in services is changing rapidly on real time basis,” the official added.
The 16 countries account for over a quarter of the world’s economy, estimated to be more than USD 75 trillion. RCEP comprises 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners — India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.