Trade ministers of 16 RCEP countries, including India and China, will meet on September 10 in Manila to take stock of the negotiations for a mega agreement, an official said. Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega trade pact among 16 countries which aims to cover goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights. A commerce ministry official said that this meeting is crucial as several issues related to goods are yet to be resolved. In the recently concluded 19th round of talks in Hyderabad, member countries exchanged their second offers in goods. These offers contain maximum number of tariff lines or products on which countries would eliminate duties.
The 20th round of negotiations at the chief negotiators level is in South Korea in mid-October. There are several issues, including reaching the final number of goods on which taxes will be eliminated and matters pertaining to services sector, which need intervention at the ministerial level. The 16-member bloc 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. Indian industry and exporters are apprehensive about the presence of China in the grouping. They have stated that lowering or eliminating duties for China may flood Indian markets with Chinese goods.
India’s trade deficit with China stood at USD 51 billion in 2016-17. Due to this, India wants certain deviations for such countries. Under deviations, India may propose a longer duration for either reduction or elimination of import duties for such countries. India is also pressing for greater market access in the services sector, particularly easy movement of professionals. The talks for the pact started in Phnom Penh in November 2012.
India already has implemented a free trade agreement with Asean, Japan and South Korea. On the other hand, the country is negotiating similar pacts with Australia and New Zealand.