With the Indian delegation engaged in last-minute negotiations with 10 ASEAN and five other countries, including China, to seal the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a Thai official said Sunday that an agreement is likely to be delayed till February 2020.
Led by Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, the Indian team is among those from 16 countries who are trying to break the deadlock ahead of the 3rd RCEP summit Monday.
However, speaking to reporters, Thai government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said: “We don’t have a conclusion yet. Once there is one, it would be announced. Commerce ministers are still discussing outstanding issues. The signing is expected around February next year.”
On Saturday, Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez had said that “one country” was getting “some consultations and confirmation on certain matters back home”. Nikkei Asian Review quoted a South Korean government source as claiming that India is making its 15 would-be partners wait.
Responding to a question on RCEP, Ministry of External Affairs’ secretary (east) Vijay Thakur Singh said: “Let’s wait till tomorrow.” If India comes onboard, the pact is expected to be announced Monday.
India’s negotiating position has been articulated by Prime Minister Modi in an interview published in Bangkok Post: “India remains committed to a comprehensive and balanced outcome from the ongoing RCEP negotiations. Their successful conclusion is in the interest of everyone involved. Hence, India seeks balance across goods, services and investments, and also within each pillar.”
The emphasis on “goods, services and investments” underlines the importance Delhi has placed on the overall package. India’s strength in the services sector is something it wants to leverage.
The RCEP is an umbrella trade agreement involving 16 countries, including the 10 ASEAN countries and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India. Once concluded, this promises to be the biggest free-trade zone in the world.
ASEAN leaders had originally proposed the idea of RCEP in 2012 when it was endorsed by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led UPA government — talks began in 2013.