India’s tough stand on providing a safety valve to cover at least 50% of Chinese imports under Regional Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP), has held up conclusion of talks for the mega trade agreement that has been in the works for over six years now. Trade ministers of the 16-nation RCEP grouping will meet once again on 1 November after failing to reconcile their positions.
During the ministerial meeting, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal also demanded that India’s concerns on e-commerce, investment, taxation, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and policies framed by local bodies should also need to be reworked before it could sign the deal, triggering complaints by negotiators from other countries, who have been pushing for early conclusion of talks.
While Asean and others are ready to sign the deal, India is accused of holding it up. Just when things looked settled, Goyal and his team raised concerns resulting in a situation where the talks ended without a joint statement by the ministers. Negotiators from other countries, especially Singapore and Thailand, blamed New Delhi for holding up the deal. A report in Japan alleged that Indian negotiators “almost banged the table” at the “very tough and serious” meeting in Bangkok.
Although the commerce department refused to comment on the issue, sources said negotiators have been given time till October 22 to try and address India’s concerns, leaving just a small window of a fortnight before leaders from the 16 countries meet to take stock of the talks that were to be end by the year. “Positions are narrowing and all countries have been given time to close negotiations by 22 October including bilaterals," an Indian trade official said. Sources said, there is a distinct possibility that only a limited deal would be possible to be thrashed out over the next month, unless adequate protection is built into the agreement.
There is strong opposition by 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.