RCEP would have hurt India’s economy, FTA with EU not easy: S Jaishankar
India did not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal because it would have had “negative consequences” though the country is interested in a “fair and balanced” free trade pact with the European Union (EU), external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday.
New Delhi had indicated its concerns with RCEP at the East Asia Summit a year ago because a number of key concerns had not been addressed during the prolonged negotiations for the trade deal, Jaishankar said during an online conversation on India-EU relations organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies.
“We took a call given that the way (RCEP) is currently, that it is not in our interest to enter this agreement as it would have fairly immediate negative consequences for our own economy,” he said, adding this wasn’t India’s “generic position on trade”.
The 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea signed RCEP on Sunday. Japan led the drafting of a ministers’ declaration that left the door open for India to join the world’s largest trading bloc, covering nearly a third of the global economy, at a later stage.
Referring to a long-delayed proposal for a free trade agreement (FTA) with EU, Jaishankar said the Indian government had spoken of the need to resume negotiations on this. India, he added, wants a “fair and balanced FTA” with EU.
“I recognise that an FTA with Europe is not an easy negotiation. In the world, it must be the most difficult negotiation because it’s a very high standard FTA,” he said. He noted the two sides were looking at various proposals, including a separate agreement on investments or an “early harvest” deal.
Jaishankar also highlighted the importance attached by India to mobility agreements with European states to facilitate the movement of skilled professionals. There are about 34 million people of Indian-origin across the world, including almost nine million in West Asia, he pointed out.
India wants to ensure mobility or migration is legal to prevent any exploitation of workers, and mobility agreements allow countries to “work out the rules of the game” and eradicate “bad practices”, he said.
Jaishankar also spoke of the urgent need to reform the UN, saying: “It’s common sense – after all, in our life, what is it which is 75 years old which you are still using? Everything requires some kind of refreshing (and) updating and we can’t let the interests of one or two countries which want to freeze one moment of history for their perpetual gain to continue.”
He added, “The longer we let this stalemate, this gridlock continue – frankly, it’s harming the UN. I don’t think the UN is coming out of this well.”