India and Japan locked horns over a higher standard in intellectual property rights (IPR), with a special focus on the pharmaceutical sector, at the negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Japan, also a key participant in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, is pushing for “extremely stringent standards” for IPR, which are higher than the limit set under global trading rules, officials told Business Standard.
India is hosting the RCEP negotiations, which started here on Monday, for the first time. The aim is to increase services exports in partner countries by getting greater market access.
Apparently, Japan has said that in order for the talks to progress it wants all negotiations to be based on the so-called “platinum” standards. In other words, talks on liberalising trade in goods, services and investment will have to be on far more stringent principles.
However, India has said such a move will virtually stifle any possibilities of emerging countries competing with the richer and developed countries.
RCEP is being negotiated between the 10-member Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
India also came under severe pressure from countries like China and Australia to substantially reduce tariffs on agricultural products and industrial goods in order to gain more market access.
Ever since the talks began between all 16 countries in May 2013, India had been accused of dragging the talks. Indian industry is also not much upbeat about RCEP. This is because if RCEP has to be successful than India will have to establish a free trading arrangement with all members countries, including China.
“The textile and footwear lobbies here are leaving no stone unturned to oppose the deal. So basically the Indian industry has proved to be the biggest obstacle in this,” said a trade negotiator from Australia who refused to be named.
Japan had been also critical of India’s reluctance to push the talks. It was also upset when India skipped the last round of talks that were held in Myanmar in August.
The talks, which are taking place in Greater Noida, an industrial hub near New Delhi also witnessed massive protests by farmer groups and NGOs today resisting tariff liberalization and increasing standards. Some even demanded stalling the talks altogether.
The government had to change the venue for talks at the last minute in order to preempt protests from various farmer groups and civil societies. Besides, the government faced a severe space crunch with over 12,000 delegates come down for the talks.
“This government is merely following the free trade path laid out by the UPA regime. The commerce minister had said that the government will conduct a review of all FTAs (free trade agreements). But it has not come out with any socioeconomic impact assessment of FTAs,” said Afsar Jafri of Focus on the Global South, a Thailand-based NGO.
Jafri said all negotiations are kept secret, away from public scrutiny. “Every decision taken at these secret negotiations will affect peoples’ lives. We want transparency in trade negotiations,” he said.