India’s decision to be out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is “final” unless other countries involved in the pact uphold its demands, said Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday. At the same time, doors for further negotiations remained open as India did not exit the deal on a bitter note that would lead to uncertainty in its economic and political relation with these countries, according to him.
“For the present, it is a final decision. We are not joining RCEP,” said Goyal during a briefing on the decision in New Delhi.
He suggested that if the remaining 15 RCEP participating countries “make a sincere effort” to resolve India’s concerns and give it the confidence that they will help it “balance this trade inequality”, the country may re-initiate talks to join the mega trade deal.
Explained: What is the RCEP trade deal?
“In international engagement and international relations…we always talk to countries. The doors never shut for anybody. But, as I said, for the present, the decision is absolutely final,” he said. “All these issues have been pending for a long time, they have been in negotiation for a long time. The onus is on other nations to respond to India’s concerns and India’s requests and therefore I think this will only strengthen India’s position in the future.”
The minister had reportedly stated during a visit to Nagpur in October that remaining out of RCEP would leave India “isolated” from a large trading bloc.
“As regards isolation, India has not got out of the pact in an acrimonious manner,” he told reporters during the briefing Tuesday. “We have put forth our issues with logical reasoning. The other countries have all appreciated India’s concerns. They have appreciated that the points that India is negotiating are fair and just and therefore…have assured India that they still want India to be a part of the regional trade agreement and will make an effort to address our concerns,” he said.
The Narendra Modi-led government had been “less enthusiastic” about the deal than the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that had initiated talks to participate, but could not close the discussions citing a change in government, said Goyal. The current government had, over the last five years of negotiations, put forth “very strong demands” on aspects like services and investments that it felt would help balance regional trade, according to him.
“…Until recently, India was an outlier in 49 of the nearly 70-odd issues that were under negotiations. For the last five years, we have consistently negotiated what is good for the people of India, what is good for the industry, what is good for farmers, what is good for the economy in India,” he said. According to him, India’s decision to stand its ground had prevented RCEP negotiations from concluding by the earlier deadline of 2016.
“We were seeking to open the Indian market (in return) for India’s products where we want access like textiles, like automobiles, like gems and jewellery,” said Goyal.
Meanwhile, India plans on re-starting negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union, which could open up “large markets” for the country’s textile, agricultural and services sector as well as opportunities for the gems and jewellery industry, said Goyal.
RCEP is a mega free trade agreement between 10 ASEAN group countries, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and, until recently, India.