India is not making any "last minute demand" at RCEP -- the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will be the world's largest free trade pact of 16 nations -- top government sources told NDTV, denying recent media reports. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sources said, is sticking to his stance that a "mutually beneficial RCEP in which all sides gain reasonably" is in interests of India and of all partners.
"Our position on this issue has been consistent and clear from the very beginning," sources told NDTV, citing the Prime Minister's interview with Bangkok Post.
In the interview, PM Modi, who is currently attending the ASEAN summit there, had said India has "put forward reasonable proposals in a clear manner" and are sincerely negotiating the issue. "We would like to see commensurate levels of ambition on services from many of our partners, even as we are ready to address their sensitivities," he had told Bangkok Post.
The RCEP, conceptualized in 2012, was put on fast track after trade tensions between the US and China pushed growth to its lowest in five years in 2019.
The grouping includes 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and six FTA (Free Trade Agreement) partners of the bloc -- China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
It is expected to account for a third of global GDP and nearly half the world's population.
The deal is strongly backed by China, but in India, opposition Congress and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP's ideological mentor, have expressed reservations, contending that it would only flood the markets with cheap Chinese goods.
Today, Congress's Rahul Gandhi tweeted:
"Make in ????????" has become "Buy from ????????".— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 4, 2019
Each year we import Rs. 6,000/ worth of goods from ???????? for every Indian! A 100% increase since 2014. #RCEP will flood India with cheap goods, resulting in millions of job losses & crippling the ???????? economy. https://t.co/4DqzARiL6D
Last week, Bangkok Post reported that a "major country", believed to be India, had concerns about the deal and it may not be finalised before next year.
One advantage of including India in the trade pact would be educed domination by China, especially in view of a shift in the diplomatic and security calculations of the US.
Despite Washington's message that President Donald Trump is "fully committed" to ASEAN, the US move to send a relatively lower-level delegation to the summit is seen as an indication that it can no longer be relied on as a counterweight to China.