The Economic Times - 04 May 2020
RCEP nations offer India package to return to negotiating table
By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury
Members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership have offered India a package to return to the negotiating table, taking into account the country’s concerns over tariff base rates and special trade safeguards.
Members of the trade bloc urged India to convey its initial response to the package by May 15 as the Indo-Pacific region braces for a post-Covid-19 economic order, ET has learnt.
The package comes after RCEP members said last month they would welcome India’s return to the negotiating table for entering the regional trade bloc. The RCEP package recognises India’s preference to use more recent most-favoured nation tariff rates than the 2014 base rates.
“The proponents would welcome updated market access offers from India using 2019 MFN tariffs on a limited number of products of concern to India to be negotiated bilaterally with RCEP Participating Countries… This is offered on the understanding that the outcome on market access, which will be achieved through bilateral negotiations, will remain balanced and that India’s tariff commitments will be acceptable to all,” according to the RCEP note on the package.
India opted out of the RCEP negotiations last year after the group did not assuage its concerns over getting swamped by imports and putting its domestic industry and agriculture at risk.
“The present form of the RCEP pact does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in his address at the RCEP summit in Bangkok last November.
India has a trade deficit with 11 of the 15 RCEP countries.
The RCEP agreed in principle to incorporate a volume-based safeguard mechanism and would welcome an indication of the products to which India would seek to apply the special safeguard.
“The proponents understand the importance of identifying mutually satisfactory solutions on these issues, while noting that progress made to date in market access negotiations as a whole should be preserved as much as possible and that requests on products of specific interest should be accommodated where possible,” according to the package offered to India.
India does not have free trade agreements with Australia, China and New Zealand. These three RCEP members remain committed to negotiating a mutually satisfactory outcome with India on special safeguards that preserves the interests of all members, according to the package.
Some RCEP members said India has much to contribute, not only in terms of its huge market, but also its participation in regional affairs as a whole.
“India can bring a lot to the table. Covid-19 demonstrated India’s contribution in terms of active pharmaceutical ingredients and the medical capacity to support others, as well as technical and medical research,” a senior diplomat from an RCEP member state told ET. “A world that will be more digital in the future will rely on India’s pool India’s pool of engineers. India, too, needs the region as it cannot reach its vision and ambition without win-win cooperation with its neighbours in the Indo-Pacific.”
The RCEP members “reaffirmed their commitment to continue working with India to address its outstanding issues” at the 29the meeting of the RCEP trade negotiating committee held via video conference on April 20, 22 and 24, according to a joint statement.
Recognising India as a valuable original participant, the members would welcome India’s return to the RCEP negotiations, according to the statement.
The current RCEP consists of members from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.