RCEP trade ministers will meet in Singapore next week to discuss mega deal

A crucial meeting of trade ministers of RCEP member countries, including India and China, will take place in Singapore on November 12-13 amid pressure being mounted on new Delhi to conclude talks for the proposed mega trade deal at the earliest, sources said.

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

The meeting is crucial as there is pressure on India to conclude the negotiations as early as possible, despite the fact that still lot of issues are yet to be resolved, they said.

Commerce and industry Minister Suresh Prabhu will represent India in the meeting.

The trade ministers of the 16-member RCEP had urged participating countries to continue to exert all efforts towards meeting the targets set in the package of year end deliverables.

The chief negotiators had concluded the 24th round of meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, last month.

Several domestic industry sectors, including steel, food processing and metals are raising concerns over the presence of China in the group.

They have stated that lowering or eliminating duties for China will flood Indian markets with Chinese goods.

India already has a free-trade agreement with Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations), Japan, and South Korea. And it is negotiating similar pacts with Australia and New Zealand. Besides, India has a trade deficit with 10 countries in this grouping.

Trade experts, too, have expressed apprehensions that eliminating duties for Chinese goods may further impact domestic industries.

The trade gap with China, Korea, Indonesia and Australia has increased to $63.12 billion; $11.96 billion; $12.47 billion and $10.16 billion in 2017-18. It was $51.11 billion, $8.34 billion, $9.94 billion and $8.19 billion, respectively, in the previous financial year 2016-17.

India is pushing for liberalising norms to promote services trade as the sector accounts for about 55 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

The negotiations have dragged on as the member countries want an agreement over the removal of customs duties on the maximum number of products traded between them.

However, countries like India have certain reservations on this as the grouping includes China, with which New Delhi has a huge trade deficit.

India is looking for a balanced trade agreement as it would cover 40 per cent of the global GDP and over 42 per cent of the world's population.

The RCEP members include 10 Asean members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six free-trade agreement partners - India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand - since November 2012.

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