New Delhi: India may take more time to conclude negotiations on joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a mega trade deal that aims to bring together 16 countries from Southeast Asia and neighbouring areas. It thus may not be ready to sign the pact when leaders of these countries meet next month, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday.
Speaking at the second Annual India Leadership Summit organised by US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said the Indian government had expressed its intent to move forward with the discussions. “But there is an elephant in the room," he said, referring to China, and India’s concerns over a bilateral trade deficit that totalled more than $50 billion last year.
Madhav said India had free trade pacts with South East Asian Nations as a grouping and Japan. Besides China, there were some other big economies that India had some concerns about, he said, that would be part of RCEP once the mega trade deal comes together.
“Once the negotiations process moves forward and both sides are happy that we have enough safeguards to ensure that nobody’s interests are affected, I think, it will be a reality. It may take time, there have been deadlines. One deadline was October. I am sure it will take more time," he said.
RCEP is a proposed free-trade agreement (FTA) between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its six FTA partners – India, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations have been taking place to clinch the pact before leaders of these countries meet in Bangkok next month for the ASEAN summit.
New Delhi has concerns given that there is strong opposition from domestic constituencies, including farmer organizations, dairy cooperatives such as Amul, civil society organizations, and industrial sectors against RCEP as they fear it would lead to flooding of the Indian market by cheap Chinese goods and farm items from Australia and New Zealand.