A ten-day work programme has been prepared by the 16-nation RCEP grouping, which is negotiating a mega free trade agreement, to sort out pending 14 issues by October 22 that are hindering the conclusion of talks, sources said.
These 14 points, which are yet to be resolved, were shared on October 12 during the ninth ministerial meet in Bangkok.
Among these points, six are specific to India and that includes data related matters under e-commerce; auto trigger concept which can be used to stop sudden surge in imports; change in base year from 2014 to 2019; and tariff differential under which India has to limit the number of goods over which it would offer different duty rates to the member countries.
The other issues include ratchet mechanism, under which a nation can not go back on the commitments made under the agreement.
The RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) agreement is being negotiated among 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and their six trade partners -- Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
The developments assumed significance as some sections of Indian industry have raised concerns over the presence of China in the grouping. Various sectors, including dairy, metals, electronics, and chemicals, have urged the government to not agree on duty cuts in these segments.
The agreement is expected to be concluded by November and signed in 2020.
Any of the issues that could not be resolved will be taken up at the leaders summit, scheduled for November in Bangkok, the sources said.
They said India has sought change in base year for implementation of duty cuts under the pact from the proposed 2014 to 2019 as it has raised customs duties on over 3,500 products since 2014.
No joint statement was issued after the last last ministerial-level meeting. An official delegation will be assembling again in Bangkok to hold techincal talks on issues like rules of origin.
India is expected to reduce or eliminate duties on about 80 per cent of goods imported from China under the proposed agreement.
India may also cut customs duties on 86 per cent of imports from Australia and New Zealand, and 90 per cent of products from ASEAN, Japan and South Korea, with which India already has a comprehensive free trade agreement.
The cut or elimination of these duties could be implemented over a period of 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years.
There is a plan for an auto-trigger mechanism, wherein India will have the option to increase customs duties if there would be a sudden surge in imports of a specific product, particularly from China, to protect the domestic industry.
As many as 28 rounds of talks have been held at chief negotiators level and no more rounds are scheduled now.
India has registered trade deficit in 2018-19 with as many as 11 RCEP member countries including China, South Korea and Australia.
The agreement aims to cover issues related to goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights.