India not ready to join RCEP trade deal, cites ‘outstanding issues’

India is welcome to join RCEP whenever it’s ready, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told reporters in Bangkok on Monday. Asian leaders had hoped to announce a breakthrough on the trade pact this week.
India has long been the main holdout on due to domestic opposition over worries it would be flooded by cheap goods from China. It made last-minute demands in the run-up to the Bangkok meetings that ended up derailing the talks. (Photo @BJP4India)
India has long been the main holdout on due to domestic opposition over worries it would be flooded by cheap goods from China. It made last-minute demands in the run-up to the Bangkok meetings that ended up derailing the talks. (Photo @BJP4India)
Updated on Jul 18, 2020 06:06 AM IST
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Bloomberg, Bangkok | ByNatnicha Chuwiruch

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, in order to protect service workers and farmers, an official told reporters in New Delhi on Monday. India had pushed the other 15 nations to address its concern over deficits and open their markets to Indian services and investments, the official said.

“India has significant outstanding issues, which remain unresolved,” RCEP countries said in a joint statement on Monday. “All RCEP Participating Countries will work together to resolve these outstanding issues in a mutually satisfactory way. India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues.”

India is welcome to join RCEP whenever it’s ready, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told reporters in Bangkok on Monday. Asian leaders had hoped to announce a breakthrough on the trade pact this week.

WATCH | India won’t join RCEP free trade deal, cites unresolved ‘core’ issues

“It’s the 15 nations that have decided to move forward first,” Le said, adding that a few issues won’t be completed before the end of the year.

“There won’t be any problem for the 15 nations to sign RCEP next year,” he added. “We are taking an open attitude -- whenever India is ready, it’s welcome to get onboard.”

China has sought to accelerate the pact covering a third of the global economy as it faces slowing growth from a trade war with the U.S., which withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership after Donald Trump took office in 2017. A deal would further integrate Asia’s economies with China just as the Trump administration urges Asian nations to shun Chinese infrastructure loans and 5G technology.

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India has long been the main holdout on due to domestic opposition over worries it would be flooded by cheap goods from China. It made last-minute demands in the run-up to the Bangkok meetings that ended up derailing the talks. The Philippines said Saturday that negotiations wouldn’t be completed until February.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who is leading a downgraded U.S. delegation to Asean, downplayed the significance of RCEP in an interview yesterday. Most Southeast Asian leaders skipped a summit on Monday with U.S. representatives after Trump decided to avoid the annual meetings for a second straight year.

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“RCEP is not much of an agreement,” Ross told Bloomberg. “It’s not a free trade agreement, it’s not anything remotely like TPP, nor anything remotely like our separate arrangements with Japan and with South Korea. So I don’t think you want to blow that out of proportion. It’s a very low-grade treaty.”

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