As negotiations to finalise the long-overdue Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) enter final stages, all eyes are on India whether it will finally take the plunge and agrees to the world's largest trading deal spanning 16-Asia Pacific nations.
Multiple diplomatic sources confirmed to PTI that except India, all 15 RCEP member countries were on board in finalising the deal when leaders of the grouping hold a summit meeting on Monday in Nonthaburi, a vibrant city north of Bangkok.
In the midst of flurry of meetings on the proposed deal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will attend the RCEP and two other key summits in the next three days in Nonthaburi, said addressing India's concerns over "unsustainable trade deficits" remains important and that opening the vast Indian market must be matched by openings in some areas where Indian businesses can benefit.
"We have put forward reasonable proposals in a clear manner and are engaged in negotiations with sincerity. We would like to see commensurate levels of ambition on services from many of our partners, even as we are ready to address their sensitivities," Modi said in an interview to Bangkok Post newspaper.
"Overall, we are clear that a mutually beneficial RCEP, in which all sides gain reasonably, is in interests of India and of all partners in the negotiation," he said.
The prime minister will attend the 16th ASEAN-India Summit, the 14th East Asia Summit and the third summit meeting of RCEP which is negotiating the trade deal.
"At the RCEP Summit, we will take stock of the progress in RCEP negotiations. We will consider all issues including whether India's concerns and interests in trade in goods, services, and investments are being fully accommodated, during this summit," Modi said in a statement in New Delhi ahead of his visit.
On India-ASEAN summit, Modi said the focus will be on deepening economic partnerships, and expanding maritime cooperation besides enhancing ASEAN-led mechanisms.
"I will be reviewing with ASEAN partners our cooperative activities, and examining plans for strengthening ASEAN and ASEAN-led mechanisms, enhancing connectivity (sea, land, air, digital and people-to-people), deepening economic partnerships, and expanding maritime cooperation," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being welcomed by Indian community, in Bangkok, Thailand | PTIThe annual ASEAN summit, a grouping of 10 influential countries, is taking place amid China's aggressive behaviour in the disputed South China Sea as well as in the Indo-Pacific region. The powerful grouping will have separate summits with its dialogue partners like India, the US, Japan, Russia and China.
The ASEAN region along with India together comprises combined population of 1.85 billion people, which is one fourth of the global population and their combined GDP has been estimated at over $3.8 trillion. Investment from ASEAN to Indian has been over USD 70 billion in the last 17 years accounting for more than 17 per cent of India's total FDI.
Besides attending the India-ASEAN and RCEP summits, the prime minister will also attend the annual East Asia summit which is expected to review the evolving security scenario in the region, besides deliberating on ways to deal with the threat of terrorism and radicalisation.
While ASEAN summit is likely to focus more on trade and investment related issues, leaders at the East Asia Summit are expected to delve deep into issues relating to maritime security, terrorism, non-proliferation and migration.
"The East Asia Summit (EAS) is today the leading element in the regional cooperative architecture, as a singular, leaders-led structure that is centered around ASEAN, and includes as members major countries in the region or with important interests in it. We will be reviewing significant regional and global issues on the Agenda of the EAS, and examining the state of our current programmes and projects," the Prime Minister said.
"I will also focus on our Indo-Pacific strategy, on which I am happy to note strong convergences with ASEAN partners and others at the EAS," he said.
Apart from the 10 ASEAN Member states, East Asia Summit includes India, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, United States and Russia.