Chinese officials will visit India soon to hold bilateral discussions on the issues hampering the negotiations of the proposed mega free trade deal — Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu said.
The pact, negotiations for which started in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in November 2012, aims to cover goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights.
“Chinese official delegation will be coming here for RCEP only. We have invited them for RCEP,” Prabhu told PTI.
The RCEP bloc comprises 10 Asean members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners – India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The meeting with Chinese officials would be crucial as Indian industry and exporters are apprehensive about the presence of China in the grouping. They have stated that lowering or eliminating duties for China may flood Indian markets with Chinese goods.
India’s trade deficit with China stood at $63.12 billion in 2017-18. India wants certain deviations for such countries. Under deviations, India may propose a longer duration for either reduction or elimination of import duties for such countries.
Pressure is also mounting on India for early conclusion of the proposed trade pact.
Prabhu said that during his recent visit to Cambodia, Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen expressed his keenness for early conclusion of RCEP talks.
“I explained to him that we have certain issues with China. So we are talking to them bilaterally about the RCEP issues as well as with Australia and New Zealand where “we have concerns about agriculture because we want to make sure that agri imports should not happen through RCEP so that our farmers should not get affected. We explained these two things,” he added.
When asked about the apprehensions and concerns raised by experts and industry on the agreement, Prabhu said the ministry is collecting feedback from all ministries and other stakeholders for preparing their positions.
About mounting pressure for conclusion talks, he said it is a comprehensive economic partnership agreement and that means inclusion of services sector.
Member countries are looking to conclude the talks by end of this year but a lot of issues are yet to be finalised including the number of products over which duties will be eliminated. Domestic steel and other metal industries wants these sectors to be kept out of the deal.
Under services, India wants greater market access for its professionals in the proposed agreement.
India already has a free trade pact with Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan and South Korea. It is also negotiating a similar agreement with Australia and New Zealand but has no such plans for China.