India Won't Join Asian Trade Deal RCEP. PM Says "Conscience Won't Permit"

India has been forcefully raising the issue amid concern that the country might be flooded with cheap Chinese agricultural and industrial products once the deal is signed.

India has called for a "mutually beneficial RCEP" that will help all sides.

Highlights

  • PM Modi said pact doesn't address concerns on market access and tariffs
  • India had called for "mutually beneficial RCEP" that favours all sides
  • There are indications that 16 nations may now proceed without India
New Delhi:

India will not be part of the the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP -- which will be the world's largest free trade pact of 16 nations.  India has called for a "mutually beneficial RCEP in which all sides gain reasonably", which, on the ground, involves market access and tariffs.

There were indications that the 16 nations which would be part of the world's largest free trade pact, may proceed without India to announce a provisional agreement amid trade tensions continue between the US and China, pushing economic growth in the region to its lowest in five years. The deal is expected to be signed next year.    

In his address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the present form of the RCEP Agreement "does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles" or India's concerns.

Citing the country's farmers, traders, professionals and industries, and workers and consumers, who have a stake in such decisions, he said: "When I measure the RCEP Agreement with respect to the interests of all Indians, I do not get a positive answer. Therefore, neither the Talisman of Gandhiji nor my own conscience permits me to join the RCEP".

India has been forcefully raising the issue of market access and tariffs amid concern that the country might be flooded with cheap Chinese agricultural and industrial products once the deal is signed.

Over the weekend, the trade ministers from 16 RCEP nations -- who met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit -- failed to resolve the outstanding issues though back-channel talks.

Sources said India was consistent in raising its concerns from Day One during the RCEP negotiations. The issues flagged included possible circumvention of Rules of Origin, trade deficits, opening of services and safeguard mechanisms to prevent import surges and protect the domestic industry.

India also raised concerns about having Most Favoured Nation status among member countries as the benefit would then lose its edge in case of nations beyond the bloc.

The opposition Congress and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP's ideological mentor, have regularly expressed reservations about the deal, contending it would only flood the markets with cheap Chinese goods.

Congress's Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Monday: 

"India is facing a massive economic slowdown. 90 lakhs jobs have already been lost in the last six years of BJP rule. RCEP is going to ensure this figure rises exponentially. This is possibly the worst time for India to join RCEP," his sister and senior party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted.

The RCEP 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.

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