India deciding against signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was based on "clear-eyed calculation" of the gains and costs of entering a new arrangement and no pact was better than a "bad agreement", External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday.
After years of negotiations, India had pulled out of the China-backed mega RCEP over unresolved "core concerns", with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying in Bangkok that the proposed deal would have adverse impact on the lives and livelihoods of all Indians.
Delivering the fourth Ramnath Goenka memorial lecture, Mr Jaishankar referred to India's decision to not sign the agreement, saying India negotiated till the very end and then, knowing what was on offer, it took a call.
"And it was that no agreement at this time was better than a bad agreement. It is also important to recognize what the RCEP decision is not. It is not about stepping back from the Act East policy, which in any case is deeply rooted in distant and contemporary history," he said.
"Our cooperation spans so many domains that this one decision does not really undermine the basics. Even in trade, India already has FTAs with 12 out of the 15 RCEP partners. Nor is there really a connection with our Indo-Pacific approach, as that goes well beyond the RCEP membership," Jaishankar said.
There can be a legitimate debate on the merits of joining RCEP or any other FTA for that matter, but it should not be confused for grand strategy, he said.
"The recent debate about the RCEP offers lessons in foreign policy as much as in the trade domain. On the one hand, we should not go back to the old dogmas of economic autarky and import substitution. But at the same time, embracing the new dogma of globalisation without a cost-benefit analysis is equally dangerous," he said.
"What we saw in Bangkok was a clear-eyed calculation of the gains and costs of entering a new arrangement," Mr Jaishankar said.
The RCEP negotiations were launched by ASEAN leaders and six other countries during the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in November 2012. The objective of launching RCEP negotiations was to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement among the ASEAN member States and its FTA partners.