Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has said that India decided to distance itself from the 16-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) after its concerns were not adequately addressed by other negotiating countries. In a response in Rajya Sabha today, Goyal said that the deal in its current form does not provide a level playing field for India as it does not account for its huge population, unequal levels of economic development and human development indicators, contrasting levels of prosperity, investment capacity, cultural diversity and significantly different political and judicial systems.
"During the RCEP meetings, we highlighted that India has a relatively low per capita GDP as compared to other RCEP countries, and there are concerns about the livelihood of our farmers and employment generation provided by the industrial sector, particularly the MSMEs. India focused on its demand for a level playing field, fair trade practices, transparency and market access. We also repeatedly cited serious concerns regarding the non-tariff barriers to trade, and opaqueness in the subsidy regime in some RCEP countries, and sought credible resolution of such issues. In addition, to be able to take advantage of regional value chains, all countries must ensure that the rules of origin are not circumvented," Goyal said.
He added that RCEP in its current form does not adequately address these concerns and joining it would have been unfair to the country's interests.
He said that government's priority today is to correct the asymmetry in the existing agreements and maximise its export potential to benefit domestic industry and farmers. "In order to achieve this end, we are working with our existing FTA partners like South Korea and Japan to address our concerns. We have also secured an agreement to initiate a review of ASEAN-India Trade and Goods Agreement to make the AIFTA more user friendly, simple and trade facilitative," he said. According to him, India remains committed to furthering India's trade interests in all future engagements in a fair, balanced and transparent manner, and protect the interests of our farmers, dairy, domestic industry, MSMEs, startups, and entrepreneurs.
RCEP has been negotiated between 16 countries, which include 10 countries of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and their 6 FTA partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).
In the run-up to the negotiations, the government had held regular stakeholder consultations with industry, exporters, trade experts, concerned ministries/departments and state governments to formulate India's position in the RCEP negotiations. More than 100 such consultations were held across various parts of the country, and inputs were taken from around 200 stakeholder groups on several occasions across all sectors including agriculture and industry, the minister said.
On a broad basis, the concerns and outstanding issues relating to India pertain to the need for a balanced market access outcome across all pillars of the negotiations, fair trade practices, open market based operations and transparency, he added.