Govt readies 3-tier offer for RCEP

The government has readied its strategy on goods trade under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The next round of talks is scheduled to take place in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on August 24-26.

RCEP, being spearheaded by China, is seen as an answer to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. It is being negotiated among the 10-member Asean economies -Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Brunei — and six of its free trade partners - China, Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and India.

After a lacklustre period since these started in 2012, member-countries have been having frequent negotiations to close a deal by December. After the talks in Myanmar, the countries will have a round in Busan, South Korea. So far, there have been eight rounds of talks.

"Our strategy is very clear. We will offer a certain set of tariff lines for Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), South Korea and Japan, with whom we have an FTA (free trade agreement) and our other non-FTA partners. We cannot offer the same to everyone. With the countries with which we have an FTA, we cannot go above a certain level that has already been fixed," a top official in the ministry of commerce and industry told Business Standard.

According to the official, India had already informally put forward the proposal during the inter-ministerial session on RCEP at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, earlier this month. It was decided that India would offer 80-85 per cent of tariff lines for duty cuts to South Korea and Japan, 70-75 per cent of tariff lines to Asean economies and 40-50 per cent to China, Australia and New Zealand.

Indian industry, especially the automobile, steel, textile, dairy and rubber sectors, is concerned that a trade deal that includes China could wipe them off from the markets. "We are very much aware that some of the sectors have taken a huge beating. Why only China — we have taken a beating on coffee, cardamom and other agricultural products from even Vietnam. That is why we are not offering everything to everyone. It has to be approached differently and we are well aware of industry’s concerns," the official stated.

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