Asean looks at Modi for trade pact

SIN­GA­PORE VISIT PM to at­tend trade bloc meet­ing on Nov 14, of­fi­cials say break­through un­likely

Hindustan Times (Amritsar) - - Nation - Rezaul H Laskar let­ters@hin­dus­tan­ ■

NEWDELHI: The Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP), which aims to cre­ate the world’s largest free trade area, will be in fo­cus when Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi vis­its Sin­ga­pore dur­ing Novem­ber 14-15 for the East Asia Sum­mit and as­so­ci­ated meet­ings.

Mem­ber-states of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Na­tions (Asean), whose lead­ers are at­tend­ing the sum­mit, are look­ing to In­dia to make a for­mal an­nounce­ment re­gard­ing the sub­stan­tial con­clu­sion of ne­go­ti­a­tions for RCEP, said an of­fi­cial from an Asean state who didn’t want to be named.

How­ever, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the lat­est de­vel­op­ments said a ma­jor break­through on RCEP was un­likely dur­ing the Novem­ber 14 meet­ing due to In­dian sen­si­tiv­i­ties that re­main to be ad­dressed. The sen­si­tiv­i­ties in­clude the pos­si­bil­ity of more Chi­nese goods mak­ing their way into In­dia if it sig­nif­i­cantly opens up its mar­kets to other mem­bers of RCEP, which com­prises 10 Asean mem­bers and China, Ja­pan, South Korea, Aus­tralia and New Zealand. In­dia also wants the other mem­bers to lib­er­alise their ser­vices mar­kets to al­low free move­ment of its skilled pro­fes­sion­als. “It isn’t as if In­dia is play­ing spoil sport for RCEP but we would like our con­cerns to be sub­stan­tially ad­dressed in the ne­go­ti­a­tions,” said one of the per­sons cited above. Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers with a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in Asean states could also con­trib­ute to in­flow of their goods into In­dia, an­other per­son said.

Against In­dia’s of­fer of tar­iff lib­er­al­i­sa­tion on 74% of goods from China, Aus­tralia and New Zealand, and up to 86% for other RCEP mem­bers, the other coun­tries want New Delhi to open up its mar­ket for 92% of goods.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions on RCEP be­gan dur­ing the Asean Sum­mit in Cam­bo­dia in Novem­ber 2012, and once con­cluded, will lead to the largest re­gional trade bloc, ac­count­ing for 30% of global trade. Dur­ing an RCEP min­is­te­rial meet­ing in Sin­ga­pore in Au­gust, the 16 mem­bers agreed on a pack­age of de­liv­er­ables to be achieved by the year-end, but things haven’t moved fur­ther since then, the peo­ple said.

Of­fi­cial from an Asean state said the mem­bers ap­pre­ci­ated In­dia’s con­cerns, but were look­ing to New Delhi to play a larger role in view of its ris­ing eco­nomic pro­file. For­mer com­merce sec­re­tary GK Pil­lai in­di­cated an early break­through on RCEP was un­likely. “It is not to In­dia’s ad­van­tage to be part of RCEP un­less we have ac­cess to the ser­vices mar­ket in the other par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries,” he said.

“In­dia will only en­ter if this ac­cess is given, but the feel­ing so far is that other coun­tries are not keen on ser­vices but only con­ces­sions for man­u­fac­tured goods.”

Be­sides at­tend­ing the meet­ings, Modi will also par­tic­i­pate in sev­eral other events and de­liver the key­note ad­dress at the Sin­ga­pore Fin­tech Sum­mit.


■ PM Naren­dra Modi with Sin­ga­pore Pres­i­dent Hal­imah Ya­cob.

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