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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

Ball in RCEP states’ court, say officials

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials added that India will also weigh China’s stance on strategic issues such as its bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before making a decision.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2019 01:42 IST
Rajeev Jayaswal and Rezaul H Laskar
Rajeev Jayaswal and Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha shake hands at the 3rd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha shake hands at the 3rd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok.(Reuters image)
         

The 15 members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal will have to take the initiative to address the concerns of India, the potential 16th member of the grouping, before it reconsiders its decision to not join the bloc, people familiar with the matter said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they added that India will also weigh China’s stance on strategic issues such as its bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before making a decision.

India opted not to join RCEP during a meeting of leaders of the 16 countries in Bangkok on November 4, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the agreement, in its current form, doesn’t satisfactorily address New Delhi’s outstanding concerns and issues.

The people cited above, who were aware of the negotiations for the trade deal, said there has been no progress since the leaders’ meeting in Bangkok on addressing India’s concerns.

“The position remains the same. It is up to the 15 other members to take the lead in addressing India’s concerns, which are known to all the countries,” said one of them.

Any fresh negotiations will have to be collectively initiated by the other members of RCEP – the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the grouping’s FTA partners Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – and there can’t be negotiations with individual countries, the people said.

Besides the resolution of India’s crucial economic concerns, New Delhi will also weigh China’s stand on key strategic issues, including the country’s bid to join the NSG and the fight against Pakistan-based terror, before considering joining the RCEP, the people added.

India’s economic interests are linked to crucial strategic issues, particularly efforts to dismantle the terror infrastructure in Pakistan and New Delhi’s entry into the exclusive club that controls trade in nuclear technology and know-how.

“India has nothing much to lose as it already has free trade agreements (FTAs) with most RCEP members. If China needs Indian participation [in RCEP] it should not only ensure favourable trade terms for India but also ensure its strategic support on crucial matters, such as India’s fight against terror and its participation in NSG,” said a second person.

China is seen by Indian decision-makers as the major road-block in both these issues. Besides stymieing India’s efforts to join the NSG on the grounds that the country hasn’t signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), China has linked India’s entry to that of its close ally Pakistan.

The people noted China has often backed Pakistan on terror-related matters at international and multi-lateral forums such as the UN Security Council and the1267 Sanctions Committee. China’s cooperation on strategic issues that matter to India will weigh in favour of closer economic ties and brighten the prospects of India joining the RCEP, they said.

The people said one of the key attractions of RCEP is access to India’s vast market, which is particularly important for China as it is facing immense trade barriers from the US, the world’s largest economy.

India will not enter into a trade pact that can open the floodgates for dumping of Chinese goods at the cost of Indian industry and its agriculture and farm sectors, they said. While this has been India’s explicit position, Beijing’s negative role in matters of interest to New Delhi at several international forums also figured in the decision not to join the RCEP, they added.

A statement issued after the RCEP leaders’ meeting on November 4 acknowledged India’s “significant outstanding issues, which remain unresolved”. It said all RCEP participating countries will “work together to resolve these outstanding issues in a mutually satisfactory way” and that India’s “final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues”.

Addressing a news briefing in Beijing a day after India’s decision not to join the trade bloc, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said China will continue to work with all parties to resolve India’s outstanding issues “through negotiations in the spirit of mutual understanding and accommodation”.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said all other RCEP members were aware of India’s concerns. “We have said that we negotiated with a very clear-eyed view of our interests (and) we negotiated hard. If we get a firm indication that our core interests will be accommodated, at that stage we can think of taking any further decision in this matter.”