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RCEP did not adequately address India's concerns, will review ASEAN FTA: Piyush Goyal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the call of not joining the RCEP agreement on November 4 in Bangkok, as India's concerns were not addressed in the pact.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 10, 2019, 07.07 PM IST
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RCEP
India, Piyush Goyal said, continued to focus on its core demand of level playing field, fair trade practices, transparency and market access during the trade negotiations.
NEW DELHI: Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday told Parliament that India decided to stay out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement as its concerns and outstanding issues were not being fully addressed in the pact.

Explaining that RCEP did not “adequately” address India's concerns over issues like non-tariff barriers to trade and opaqueness in subsidy regime in some countries, he told Rajya Sabha that these forced the country to back out from the trade deal.

“The merchandise deficit with all the RCEP countries increased more than nine times from $7.1 billion in 2003-04 to $65.1 billion in 2013-14,” he said while stating India’s stand on the RCEP in the Upper House.

India, he said, continued to focus on its core demand of level playing field, fair trade practices, transparency and market access during the trade negotiations.

RCEP was negotiated among sixteen Asia-Pacific countries. These included namely 10 countries of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the call of not joining the RCEP agreement on November 4 in Bangkok, as India's concerns were not addressed in the pact.

On Congress leader Jairam Ramesh’s question on what happened suddenly that India decided to opt out, Goyal said: “Nothing happened at the last moment…you got to know of it late”.

The minister said he and RSS-affiliate Swadesh Jagran Manch were opposed to the pact and the government would talk to the RCEP countries as “this trade imbalance needs to be corrected”.

Replying to deputy leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma’s question on essential and non-essential imports from the grouping, Goyal said that there are certain imports which are considered essential such as pulses, whose imports have reduced.

“Since, RCEP in its current form did not adequately address our concerns, joining it would be unfair to our interests,” he said even as he reiterated that the Act East Policy was the bedrock of India’s economic policy and its engagement with ASEAN countries and other trading partners would continue.

However, he said that India would continue to engage with other countries as “equal partner and on the principle of reciprocity”.

ASEAN review
Citing the example of the ASEAN-India FTA, in which India eliminated tariffs on 74.4% lines while some ASEAN countries eliminated tariffs on only 50.1% and 69.7% lines, Goyal said the government is also going to review the free trade agreement between India and ASEAN countries as it has created trade imbalances. The review of the ASEAN-India Trade and Goods Agreement will make it more user friendly simple and trade facilitative.

“We are working with our existing FTA partners like South Korea and Japan to address our concerns,” said Goyal in his statement on trade agreements with RCEP countries.

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