RCEP negotiations: Officials from 16 nations to meet in Jakarta in February

Chief negotiators of 16 countries including India and China will meet next month in Jakarta for the next round of discussions on the proposed mega trade deal RCEP.

A government official said issues to be discussed in the week long meeting, starting February 3, include the single- tier system of duty relaxation under the RCEP.

Under this system, the member countries would deliberate on finalising the maximum number of goods on which duties will either be eliminated or reduced drastically.

Matters pertaining to services sector are also expected to figure in the meeting, the official said.

Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu recently stated that India would work closely and constructively with all the members for early conclusion of the negotiations.

However, he has asserted on the importance of addressing sensitivities and aspirations of all the countries of the group.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega trade pact among 16 countries which aims to cover goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights.

The 16-member bloc RCEP comprises 10 ASEAN nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners - India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Indian industry and exporters are apprehensive about the presence of China in the grouping. They have stated that lowering or eliminating duties for China may flood Indian markets with Chinese goods.

Indias trade deficit with China stood at USD 51 billion in 2016-17. Due to this, India wants certain deviations for such countries. Under deviations, India may propose a longer duration for either reduction or elimination of import duties for such countries.

Talks for the pact had started in Phnom Penh in November 2012. India already has implemented a free trade agreement with ASEAN, Japan and South Korea. On the other hand, the country is negotiating similar pacts with Australia and New Zealand.

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