SINGAPORE : India’s decision to withdraw from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement on trade has left many dignitaries disappointed in other parts of Asia, especially in member countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean). Senior Minister of Singapore Teo Chee Hean, speaking at the fourth South Asian Diaspora Convention held in Singapore, made this plain. In his address at the event organized by the Institute of South Asian Studies, Teo, who is also the city-state’s Coordinating Minister for National Security, described India’s withdrawal from the RCEP as a “lost opportunity from an overall strategic point of view". While the mood here over the matter is one of dismay, the minister also said that Singapore remains optimistic about India’s eventual integration into the trade pact.

The convention, a gathering of policymakers and academics, apart from business and civil society leaders, is aimed at facilitating meaningful interactions among various representatives of the South Asian diaspora in Asia to explore business and other opportunities in the broad region.

Besides talks on RCEP, this year’s convention, with its theme “Vibrant South Asia: Innovative Diaspora", includes discussions on infrastructure and smart cities, technology in financial services and trends in education technology. Its first session, which covered business opportunities and challenges in South Asia, drew into the spotlight India’s model of development and policies that act as hurdles to economic growth.

According to Dr. Amitendu Palit, a senior research fellow and research lead for trade and economics at the Institute of South Asian Studies of the National University of Singapore, who was one of the speakers at the opening session, India’s shift to a “welfarist-populist model of policymaking" has begun to affect its ability to join global supply chains and also its chances of a recovery from the ongoing economic slowdown.

With RCEP poised to become an important market and engine of economic growth, the sentiment that prevails at the summit is that pressure would likely grow on India to reconsider its pullout. The country’s competitive businesses would not want to miss out.

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