China border tensions cloud Asia trade pact talks in India
New Delhi, India - A meeting of 16 nations in India on a mega Asia trade pact is happening in the shadow of elevated border tensions between India and China, a wrinkle that could further slow progress on the deal.
Trade officials gathered in the southern city of Hyderabad are seeking to hammer out agreement on sticky issues like the free movement of people in the pact that takes in the world’s second and third-biggest economies - China and Japan - but does not involve the US.
China is urging the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with India, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan, to wrap up the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as soon as possible. Still, India’s reluctance to cede on its demand for greater market access for its professionals has hindered the process.
India is making it clear it won’t rush toward an early conclusion of the trade talks and is insisting on mobility for its highly-skilled workers. That demand has raised concern among ASEAN nations who view such a move as a potential threat to their domestic economies.
The battle lines have been drawn, said Amitendu Palit, a senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.
“The challenge for RCEP is that China would want a quick end to the deal so that it can establish itself as a leader of world trade,” said Palit. “Japan, New Zealand won’t be in favour of concluding early as they would want a high quality agreement. However RCEP is a low-quality agreement as it is not going beyond tariff cuts and investment.”
After President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the separate 12 nation TransPacific Partnership, all eyes are now on the Asia trade pact, which would account for almost 30 per cent of global GDP and over a quarter of exports.
While the situation remains tense along their border, India will actively engage with China and other member nations in the talks. But it will insist that the deal rests on concessions regarding the service sector, people with knowledge of the matter said. India is willing to give a better offer for broader tariff cuts on goods to RCEP countries, although it expects similar concessions on services, the people said. The service sector contributes over 50 per cent to India’s GDP and any trade pact that fails to reflect this lacks ambition and is not commercially meaningful, the people said.
India is making it clear it won’t rush toward an early conclusion of the trade talks and is insisting on mobility for its highly-skilled workers