India has been seeking a more balanced outcome of the RCEP deal with a strong agreement on services trade.
India has been seeking a more balanced outcome of the RCEP deal with a strong agreement on services trade.

RCEP members seek to conclude talks on free trade pact by year-end

  • Member nations agreed that negotiations have reached a critical point as deadline for conclusion draws near
  • RCEP grouping resolved to conclude negotiations for a free trade agreement by the year end while recognizing that growing protectionism may impact negotiating positions

Trade ministers of the 16- member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) grouping on Sunday resolved to conclude negotiations for a free trade agreement by the year end while recognizing that growing protectionism may impact negotiating positions of some member countries, despite serious reservations of member countries with India’s position.

The ministers recognized that negotiations have reached a critical point as the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations draws near, according to a joint statement issued after the 7th ministerial meeting.

“Notwithstanding the remaining challenges in the negotiations, RCEP participating countries (RPCs) are working on addressing outstanding issues that are fundamental to conclude the agreement this year as mandated by the leaders," according to the joint statement.

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.

“The RCEP ministerial meeting ended. This time, the meeting proceeded smoothly. I can’t say much because we are negotiating, but I think we have made great progress towards the agreement at the summit in November," Japanese trade minister Hiroshige Seko tweeted.

Heads of states are scheduled to meet in November where the conclusion of RCEP negotiation is expected to be announced.

“Ministers are working hard towards concluding negotiations for this important deal which would see NZ anchored in an agreement with almost half the world’s population. It will also provide us a free trade relationship with India," New Zealand agriculture minister Damien O’Connor tweeted.

“Ministers are working hard towards concluding negotiations for this important deal which would see NZ anchored in an agreement with almost half the world’s population. It will also provide us a free trade relationship with India," New Zealand agriculture minister Damien O’Connor tweeted.

“Attended the Plenary session of the 7th RCEP Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok today. India holds a significant place in the global economy and its role in the discussion will provide for stable growth in trade and investments," trade minister Goyal tweeted.

According to the joint statement, continuing uncertainties in trade and investment environment have the dampened growth outlook across the world, with a likely impact on businesses and jobs, adding to the urgency of concluding the RCEP negotiations. “While noting that certain developments in the global trade environment may affect RPC’s individual positions in the course of the negotiations, ministers agreed that RPCs should not lose the long-term vision of deepening and expanding the values chains in the RCEP," read the joint statement.

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