RCEP deals incomplete without India: Thai envoy
Any deal on the 16-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that doesn’t include India will be incomplete though negotiators have to take into account New Delhi’s concerns on matters such as rules of origin, Thai ambassador Chutintorn Gongsakdi has said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Gongsakdi also spoke on the Indo-Pacific and bilateral defence cooperation, saying the two sides were hoping to conclude negotiations on the purchase of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile by next year. This could be the first sale of the missile system jointly developed by India and Russia to a third country.
The envoy’s remarks on RCEP assume significance as key players, such as Malaysia, have suggested the deal should be finalised by the yearend by the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China, Japan and South Korea, with India, Australian and New Zealand joining at a later date.
Gongsakdi suggested recent negotiations in China and a RCEP trade ministers meeting in Beijing should focus on give and take to ensure the free trade pact is concluded by the end of 2019.
“An RCEP without India is not worth it and India’s part of the future. The people who (talk of) leaving India out and so on, it’s just posturing,” he said.
Emphasising the need for balanced negotiations, he added: “Maybe we get goods but you have to give India services...and some of India’s issues that they have been facing – like rules of origin, domestic regulation in services – these issues have to be addressed.”
During recent meetings with commerce minister Piyush Goyal, representatives of Indian industries expressed serious concerns about the trade deal leading to virtually unrestricted market access for China and lack of access for Indian services. Goyal will skip the RCEP trade ministers meet in Beijing during August 2-3, and India will be represented by commerce secretary Anup Wadhawan.
Gongsakdi said the finalisation of RCEP could pave the way for other deals, such as a Bimstec FTA and a review of the Asean-India FTA. “In this mood and tone of the global economy, what we need is more market openings...,” he added.
Referring to defence cooperation, he said Thailand is eyeing “important purchases” of Indian military hardware, including coastal radars and the BrahMos cruise missile.
“We will probably be buying more military equipment from India. I was hoping for BrahMos this year. Perhaps it will not happen this year, but it’s just positive, it’s just a matter of when,” he said without giving details.
People familiar with developments said negotiations on the BrahMos deal had got a boost following a visit to India by Royal Thai Navy chief Admiral Luechai Ruddit last December.
Gongsakdi said Thailand, Singapore and India are set to hold their first trilateral naval exercise this year in India. This will be followed by an exercise in Singapore in 2020 and in Thailand in 2021. “Singapore was an important interlocutor to make all this happen, a lot of the lobbying was done here in Delhi,” he said.
Bilateral ties are set to get a fillip with Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s planned visit to Thailand at the end of the year for the Asean Summit and the Joint Committee Meeting of foreign ministers, which could be held as early as August, he said.
Thailand hopes to receive 2 million Indian tourists this year and to ramp up the figure to 10 million by 2030, he said. More Thai nationals are also coming to India and instead of the better known Buddhist trail, young travellers are opting for destinations such as Leh and Srinagar, he said.
On issues such as the Indo-Pacific, Gongsakdi said Thailand is keen on achieving a balance between major players such as China and India. Asean would like to work with its dialogue partners on connectivity, sustainable development, maritime cooperation and economics for inclusive development, he said.
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