New Delhi: India will protect its national interest while signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement but one or two domestic industries cannot hold the free trade agreement hostage, Trade Minister Piyush Goyal said on Wednesday.
“Prime minister Narendra Modi has directed me to enter RCEP negotiations while taking all steps to protect the domestic industry. At the same time, we have to keep in mind the opportunity to increase business activities of new technology, new foreign investment and opening up of the services sector, new market access to Indian exporters. Otherwise, Indian exporters will be at a disadvantage," Goyal told reporters after hearing concerns of exporters on trade remedial measures.
“But national interest cannot be hijacked by one or two sectors. National interest has to be seen in the overall context. Having said that, we will certainly balance even those industries which feel that there could be at an unfair advantage to Chinese companies and ensure that whatever agreement we make, will be good for India in the balance of convenience. But you will certainly appreciate that if I have to look at 100% sectors, then no negotiation can ever be complete," Goyal added.
While steel and dairy industries have been vocal against the trade deal, Goyal said pharmaceutical and cotton industries will benefit from the trade agreement.
Goyal attended the just concluded RCEP Ministerial meet at Bangkok over the weekend where countries resolved to conclude negotiations by November.
India has invited representatives of RCEP for discussing ideas in New Delhi on 14-15 September, Goyal said.
When asked whether India is in agreement with other countries to conclude negotiations by November, Goyal said the sooner it is concluded with adequate protection for domestic industry, the better it is for India.
Goyal said a National Logistics Policy and a multi-modal transportation bill will be soon taken to the Cabinet for clearance to reduce logistics cost for domestic industry.
The RCEP is a proposed trade pact between the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their six FTA partners, including Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand. It accounts for 25% of global gross domestic product, 30% of global trade, 26% of foreign direct investment flows, and 45% of the world’s population.
India has been seeking a more balanced outcome of the RCEP deal with a strong agreement on services trade, including a deal on easier movement of skilled manpower. However, most members are reluctant to accept India’s proposal. With India’s trade deficit with China and RCEP in 2018-19 standing at $53.6 billion and $105 billion, respectively, it is apprehensive that further liberalisation in tariffs to China could be detrimental to its domestic industries.