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Indian Commerce Minister denies reports of RCEP ultimatum to Delhi
April 20, 2016, 5:35 am

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (4th from left) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (7th R) attends the releasing ceremony of a joint statement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 22, 2015 [Xinhua]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (4th from left) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (7th R) attends the releasing ceremony of a joint statement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 22, 2015 [Xinhua]

Days ahead of the 12th round of negotiations for the RCEP trade talks in Australia, India’s Commerce and Industry Minister sought to allay doubts about New Delhi’s “seriousness” in joining the China-backed trade pact.

Beijing is a key driver of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed 16-nation free-trade area that would be the world’s biggest such bloc, encompassing 3.4 billion people.

A report in India’s leading daily The Hindu on Tuesday quoted unnamed Ministry officials as saying the RCEP members have told India to “either agree to eliminate tariffs on most products quickly or leave the talks”.

Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday denied the report saying it was “baseless” and that India would be participating in the next round of talks.

“The RCEP negotiations are happening in detail. India participating in the next round beginning 24 April ’16 at Sydney, Australia,” Sitharaman tweeted.

“Sources in two ministries told The Hindu that the other RCEP members have issued this ultimatum being irked by what they perceive as New Delhi’s “obstructionist, defensive and half-hearted approach” that is “delaying” the conclusion of the talks. They said the apprehensions were voiced at the last round of negotiations in February in Brunei,” the Indian daily reported on Tuesday.

Both India and China are excluded from the US-led TPP trade bloc.

A survey by Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) says the US-led TPP trade pact will add about $223 billion and the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), once completed, about $644 billion.

Left outside the US-backed TPP, China and the rest of the 15 members negotiating the RCEP approach next week’s talks for a huge Asia-wide equivalent with fresh urgency, lest competitor nations steal a march on export access.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last month called for efforts to bring negotiations for the RCEP to a close this year.

The China-led RCEP is a 16-nation trade bloc which includes the ASEAN plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Talks are stalled over the lists of offers for tariff reductions on goods and service sectors.

The Hindu report quotes Indian officials saying “trade negotiators from the other RCEP members, comprising the 10-member ASEAN bloc, and China, Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand were upset over India’s protectionist stance, “focusing only on the export of manpower” and not on liberalising trade in goods and other services, as well as investment”.

Meanwhile at the APEC Summit last year in Manila, world leaders took stock of the mammoth China-backed Asia Pacific FTA negotiations launched during the 2014 summit in Beijing.

Beijing is trying to counter US’ progress in forming a Trans-Pacific Partnership that excludes China by this alternate mega Free Trade Agreement in the Asia Pacific.

A Wall Street Journal report had said the US was trying to block China’s efforts at introducing the Asia Pacific FTA negotiations.

Beijing is claiming that this mega Asia Pacific FTA, conceived as early as 2006, is “not in conflict” with the TPP or the RCEP as both are “possible routes to it” and will aim to lower trade barriers across the region.

The RCEP and TPP and a host of other FTA negotiations sprung up after a decade of talks failed to conclude a global trade deal, the so-called Doha Round.

By pushing for a wider deal in the Asia Pacific that would equal the EU, China would also steal a march over the TPP championed by President Barack Obama’s administration.

 

TBP

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