Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal will head to Bangkok on Saturday to meet trade ministers from countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Goyal will attend the 7th RCEP ministerial meeting at a time when deep divisions have formed within the government as key ministries such as agriculture, steel and animal husbandry, etc. have opposed the plan, arguing it will lead to an influx of cheap Chinese imports.
The 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 Asean has trade deals — New Zealand, Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea.
The meet, between September 8 and 10, is expected to see a push from Asean that has been adamant on deciding the key outline of the pact by 2019- end.
So far, 26 rounds of talks have been held, apart from six minister-level meets. The last meet in Beijing saw positions on tariff reduction, services trade and investment facilitation harden as India and China refused to agree on key issues. Goyal had skipped the ministerial meet. Sources said 13 of the 25 topics of discussion within the RCEP remained unfinished after the technical negotiations were over.
These include the crucial trade in services, movement of professionals across borders, investments, dispute resolution and rules of origin. As a result, the ministers are expected to have significantly less material to go forward on, at a time when the third RCEP summit is planned for early-November, they added.
The government has also been under pressure to review existing FTAs with South Korea and Japan, which haven’t been able to reduce India’s trade deficit with these nations.
New Delhi has consistently focused on services trade norms, such as those allowing the free movement of trained professionals across national boundaries. This would allow Indian professionals — such as chartered accountants, teachers and nurses — to work in other RCEP nations without the need for bilateral mutual recognition agreements.
Goyal will also attend the 16th Asean India Economic Ministers meeting and the 7th East Asia Economic Ministers Summit in Bangkok.
The government on Friday said Asean is the gateway to the Indian Ocean region and as close partners, there is convergence of views in India’s and Asean outlook in the region.
India’s bilateral trade with Asean jumped threefold from $21 billion in 2005-06 to $96.7 billion in 2018-19. Asean countries together have emerged as the largest trading partner of India in 2018-19 (followed by the US), with a share of 11.47 per cent in India’s overall trade, while India was Asean’s sixth largest trading partner in 2018.
Goyal is also scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Japan, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand and Russia.