With negotiations on major issues such as tariff reduction and market access still unresolved, the government is betting on the November 1 meet of trade ministers from Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) nations to cut through the tangle.
Among other issues, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal will be under pressure in Bangkok to negotiate a proposed import cap for China, which has been strongly resisted by Beijing. India may now support the formal announcement of completion of talks with an ‘in-principle’ support for the deal, senior government officials hinted. It would, however, be up to New Delhi to convince other nations to continue talks further.
The resulting agenda prepared by the ministers will be discussed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other RCEP leaders in Bangkok on November 4, the official deadline for the deal.
After technical discussions ended earlier this month, nations had sought to put contentious issues to bed through bilateral engagements by October 22. But no forward movement had been made then as well as in the past 10 days on most areas of dissent, they said.
RCEP is India’s most ambitious trade pact, currently under negotiation. Based on India’s existing free trade agreement (FTA) with the 10-nation Asean bloc, the RCEP will include all the nations with which the Asean has trade deals — New Zealand, Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea. Apart from the RCEP meet, Modi will also attend the 16th ASEAN-India summit and the 14th East-Asia Summit.
Officials are pushing to secure exceptions for India on trade issues, sources said. Prime among these is New Delhi's opposition to demands of other nations on securing trade concessions provided by India in the domestic space. Known as “ratchet” in trade terminology, the concept implies that any policy changes will be automatically committed under the RCEP agreement to all members after a fixed period.
Talks have faltered on providing MFN (most-favoured nation) status to all partners. This promises that India will provide investment or services-related concessions given to a trading partner under a bilateral treaty automatically to RCEP members without any time gap.
The government may not extend MFN benefits to other RCEP nations on certain items. India has also sought to extend the date for duty cuts from the initially planned 2014 to 2019, because it has raised customs duties on more than 3,500 products since 2014, sources had earlier said.
So far, 29 rounds of negotiations, apart from multiple minister-level meets, have been held. Despite a push by New Delhi has apparently made it clear that significant tariff concessions have already been made and further talks would be based only after an equal push by China.
On Wednesday, Goyal said the detractors of proposed trade deals should maintain silence until the framework of each was made public. Arguing that a targeted campaign is working to derail talks, Goyal conceded that the government would never compromise on national security and national interest.