Top union ministers including home minister Amit Shah and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman held a crucial meeting on Friday to discuss the proposed mega free-trade agreement RCEP, which has entered the last phase of its negotiations, an official said.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal and minister of state for commerce and industry Hardeep Singh Puri also attended the meeting.
The meeting assumed significance as trade ministers of 16 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) countries will hold discussions in Bangkok next week to take stock of the negotiations.
According to sources, this would probably be the last ministerial-level meeting as only a few issues like rules of origin are pending for conclusion of talks for the proposed pact.
RCEP is being negotiated among 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (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.
As per the plan, India is expected to reduce or eliminate duties on about 74-80 per cent of goods imported from China under the proposed agreement. Bilateral talks are still going on with the neighbouring country, with which India has a trade deficit of over $50 billion.
Similarly, India may cut customs duties on 86 per cent of imports from Australia and New Zealand, and 90 per cent for products imported 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.
Negotiations are also going on for an auto-trigger mechanism, wherein India would have the option to increase customs duties if there would be a sudden surge in imports of a particular product, particularly from China, to protect the domestic industry.
China's President Xi Jinping's will be visiting India next week to hold the second informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The negotiations for the RCEP deal has reached a fundamental phase as the member countries are targeting to conclude the talks by November.
As many as 28 rounds of talks have been held at chief negotiators' level, and no more rounds are scheduled for now.
Further, some sections of the 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.
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.