Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu on Tuesday said that the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) would not be over in 2018, but will go on in 2019 as well.
“It will not end in 2018, as has been agreed at the level of the leaders. There will be substantial negotiations, (and) it will go on in 2019 as well and we have an opportunity to work on all these,” the minister said.
RCEP bloc comprises 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners – India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Trade ministers of these 16 countries attended the 6th RCEP Ministerial meeting on August 30 and August 31 in Singapore.
A joint statement issued after the meeting indicated that the RCEP may be signed by the end of 2018. The joint statement said: “The ministers adopted a package of year end deliverables developed by the trade negotiating committee … The Ministers instructed negotiators to exert utmost efforts to achieve each of the targets in the package by the end of this year…completion of the package would signify the substantial conclusion of the RCEP negotiations by the end of this year.”
However, a Commerce Ministry official said on the condition of anonymity that there are “many items outside of this package and these items would be sorted out by the end of 2019 and even that is an open ended question”. The official added that this announcement on package has been done because a lot of countries involved in the negotiations are concerned about the growing protectionism around the world. “It is a message regarding free trade,” he said.
Prabhu, on Tuesday, said that services is an integral part of trade and its “inevitable” linkage with goods has been accepted during the ongoing negotiations for RCEP .
“We emphasised few important issues. One is inevitable linkage of services with goods negotiations. We have said that RCEP is not goods partnership alone, it’s an economic partnership and economic partnership envisages that services should be integral part of trade. This important linkage has been accepted,” the minister stated.
Prabhu also stated that India has made a case that it needs 20 years as a “grace period” to implement certain parts of the RCEP agreement.
The RCEP talks, which were launched in Phnom Penh in November 2012 have dragged on as the member countries want an agreement over the removal of customs duties on the maximum number of products traded between them. However, countries like India have certain reservations on this as the grouping includes China, with which New Delhi has a huge trade deficit.