Representatives from countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are expected to discuss measures to further strengthen the deal this weekend during a meeting called by the Indian government, said Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on Wednesday.
With the deadline for India to sign the mega trade deal nearing, the minister told reporters here that the country would ensure that its domestic industry would be protected in keeping with national interest, but that national interest cannot be “hijacked” by one or two sectors.
Delegates from the 16 RCEP countries are expected to travel to New Delhi for further discussions on the mega trade deal on September 14 and 15, he said.
Goyal said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed him to conduct RCEP negotiations while “taking all steps” to protect the domestic industry. “At the same time, we have to keep in mind (bigger business opportunities) of new technology, foreign investment and opening up of the services sector … otherwise, Indian exporters will be at a disadvantage,” he said.
RCEP is a mega trade deal currently being negotiated between 16 countries, including the 10-member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia New Zealand and India.
India currently has a trade deficit with several RCEP members. For instance, despite its free trade pact with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members, its deficit with Indonesia is around $10.6 billion, Thailand around $3 billion and Singapore around $4.7 billion.
While ASEAN members agreed to review their FTA in goods with India earlier this week, Goyal said that India has also “requested” RCEP countries like Japan and Korea to review their FTAs as well as it has been “many years” since these agreements were first signed and the trade situation between the countries have changed. India’s trade deficit with Japan is around $7.9 billion and South Korea, $12 billion.
“We have requested those two countries to review these FTAs as soon as possible,” he said. While concerns have been raised by several domestic industries on China’s presence in the RCEP bloc, the minister said that the Indian industry was “literally vertically split” in its decision to join the deal.
India currently has $53.6 billion trade deficit with China, and segments of the country’s domestic industry have in the past raised fears that agreeing to the mega trade deal would lead to cheaper Chinese products “flooding” the Indian market. However, not all industries have raised these issues, according to the minister.
“We have half the industry saying please bring RCEP, and we can increase exports dramatically. Then, there is a section of industry which feels that we should not have RCEP,” he said.
The minister also said that he has given the patents office new targets to speed up approvals for patent and copyright applications by micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as startups. The government is expected to announce more concessions in these sectors for these approvals “soon”, he added.
“I believe we will bring historical changes and speed in copyrights and patent approvals in the next 1-1.5 years,” said Goyal.
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