Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday said that negotiations for service sector, in proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, is getting tighter and slower as countries across the world are taking more protectionist measures for their economy.
“When positions are tightening globally, you find that the negotiation on services is also getting tighter. On goods, the negotiation is moving, but on services it is not moving at all. It can’t be moving so fast in goods, that nothing happens in services,” Sitharaman said. The commerce minister led the Indian delegation at the third RCEP inter-sessional ministerial meeting on May 21-22 in Hanoi.
According to a ministry statement, on May 21, the minister stressed the “need for the RCEP fraternity to remain guarded and united against recent protectionist trends and be supportive of inclusive trade policies for the greater good and prosperity of the people of the region”.
She clarified that no one has said anything about restrictive measures for services sector openly. “No one is going to say that Trump is doing this, ASEAN is also going to do this. When you sense something, you come up to a positive angle to it and tell them. You sense it in a certain way that it is going to be tight for services sector… Nobody is going to come up to you and say: Sorry, in the negotiations for services, things are going to be different from now, and we won’t look after concerns of India or Philippines. No, nobody’s going to say that. But you sense it,” she elaborated.
The 16-member bloc is negotiating this mega trade agreement that aims to cover goods, services, investments, economic and technical co-operation, competition and intellectual property rights. Sitharaman also indicated that the negotiations might not conclude this year and move into the first half of 2018.The members have aimed at concluding the negotiations, which started in 2012, by end of this year.
Discussing the issue of proposed tariff reduction at RCEP, on which currently the negotiations are going on, the minister said that 100 per cent tariff elimination is what any negotiation aims. “But, for countries like Australia and New Zealand, they have eliminated tariffs on almost all of their stuff. So, when they come into a negotiation like this, for them it will mean, that I (countries like Australia and New Zealand) have already opened up my country to all of your products without any duties. And to expect from countries like India – where the tariffs are currently very high — that therefore, you also do it, I think it is impossible,” the minister said.
Sitharaman added that tariff elimination from India’s side has a different and very serious connotation. “We can only look at reduction. At every stage, it is the reciprocity on the basis of the countries capacities,” she said.
The minister also revealed that India has proposed RCEP business visa card to ensure hassle-free movement of businessmen in the 16 countries of the grouping under the mega trade deal, negotiations for which are likely to be concluded next year. She added that India has raised all the issues, including delay in giving licenses and clearances to domestic businesses, with the Chinese authorities in Hanoi.
She also addressed the concerns regarding any restriction on the movement of generic drugs. “There is some kind of a campaign going on that India probably has agreed to something that will restrict the movement of generic drugs and as a result, India may have to suffer. (This campaign is saying that) Probably, in the technical sessions, Indians have agreed to something which is on this line. Lot of people have started talking about it. I have one of the international groups also writing to me about it. Let me make it clear that no such commitment has been made, neither at the technical level nor at the ministerial level. Even at the technical level, India has not committed anything it will restrict our generic medicines or IPR (intellectual property rights),” she said.