India has decided to not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) after negotiations failed to address New Delhi's concerns on the biggest trade deal in the world. The remaining 15 RCEP nations have decided to go ahead without India, according to sources.
Meanwhile, China, that has been a prominent advocate of RCEP, has said that 15 members have agreed to move ahead without India, while leaving the door open for it to join, a deal that has been given new impetus by the United States-China trade war.
Australia, another RCEP nation, echoed China's sentiments. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the RCEP deal would be bigger and better with India in it. "It has always been our view, and the view of many who sit around the table, that this is a bigger and better deal with India in it. I think patience is the virtue in this," he added.
The plan is reportedly to sign the deal next year, under Vietnam's chairmanship of ASEAN.
RCEP is meant to create the biggest free trade region in the world with sixteen countries (including India) - 10 ASEAN nations, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and their six FTA partners, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. These countries represent half the world's population and one-third of the global GDP.
Reports suggest that the trade ministers of 16 RCEP nations could not resolve the issues raised by India even as back-channel talks continued along the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bangkok to address the pain points.
All through RCEP negotiations, India has been sceptical of market access as well as protected lists of goods in order to shield its domestic market. There is widespread apprehension in the country that Indian markets will be flooded with cheap Chinese agricultural and industrial products if it joins the RCEP initiative.
The RCEP negotiations were launched by ASEAN leaders and six other countries during the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in November 2012. The objective of launching RCEP negotiations was to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement among the ASEAN member States and its FTA partners.
(With agencies' input)