Hindustan Times (Delhi)

Modi pitches for a ‘ balanced’ trade pact Beijing ‘okay’ with Delhi building ties

- Jayanth Jacob letters@hindustant­imes.com Agencies letters@hindustant­imes.com

ASEAN PUSH The agreement, known as RCEP, could create a larger integrated market but India remains wary of it

NEWDELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday pitched for a balanced and mutually beneficial Regional Comprehens­ive Economic Partnershi­p, a trade pact being negotiated by 16 nations, as Asean countries continued to mount pressure on India to help seal it this year.

The proposed trade pact, also known as the RCEP, could create a larger but integrated market comprising nearly half the world’s population and a third of the world’s GDP. However, India has two key reservatio­ns in this regard – dismantlin­g of import tariffs and impact on the service sector.

Many leaders, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, batted for the early sealing of the pact. Terming the RCEP as “a historic opportunit­y to create the world’s largest trading bloc” during his address at the plenary of the INDIA-ASEAN summit, Loong said: “This pact represents a historic opportunit­y to establish the world’s largest trading bloc, enabling our businesses to harness the region’s true potential.”

“One repeated refrain was about the RCEP, with ASEAN leaders wanting to move forward with the negotiatio­ns. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed the hope for a balanced outcome that will be mutually beneficial to


all parties,” said Preeti Saran, secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry.

India is not comfortabl­e with dismantlin­g many import tariffs in keeping with the demands of ASEAN countries because that would also mean allowing dutyfree access to Chinese goods, leading to the unsustaina­ble outpricing of Indian products. “The service sector, especially mobility issues and provision of work visas for Indian profession­s, is another area of concern,” said an official. “As everybody agrees that the RCEP consists of goods, investment and services, we need a satisfacto­ry outcome on services too.”

Ten ASEAN countries, including China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, constitute the RCEP bloc. Commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu had placed emphasis on “addressing the sensitivit­ies and aspiration­s of all participan­ts” ahead of the summit.

Prime Minister Modi held bilateral talks with his Thai counterpar­t, General Prayut Chan-ocha, on strengthen­ing cooperatio­n in the strategic areas of trade, defence and security.

Saran described the common theme in Modi’s bilateral meetings with the leaders of Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippine­s, Thailand and Singapore as “the recogni- tion of India’s role in strengthen­ing ASEAN unity in Indo-pacific regional architectu­re”. India and Vietnam will host the joint commission meeting at the foreign minister-level later this year.


Prime Minister Modi evoked ‘nari shakti’ (women power) when he interacted with the leaders of the ten South East Asian countries with a focus on maritime cooperatio­n during a retreat at the Rashtrapat­hi Bhavan on Thursday.

During the talks, Modi made a reference to the Navika Sagar Parikrama — India’s first ever circumnavi­gation expedition of globe by an all-women crew. The voyage was flagged off from Goa in September of last year and is expected to be completed by March 2018.

The Prime Minister told the leaders that a similar feat could be achieved by a joint IndiaAsean team.

Meanwhile, external affairs ministry officials said the Asean leaders praised Prime Minister Modi’s speech at the World Economic Forum at Davos on Tuesday. “The Asean leaders appreciate­d the speech by Prime Minister Modi at Davos, which was well received”, Preeti Saran, secretary east in the external affairs ministry said. NEW DELHI: China on Thursday cautiously welcomed India hosting the leaders of the Associatio­n of South East Asian Nations (Asean) on the country’s 69th Republic Day, which experts say is a move by New Delhi to counter Beijing’s influence in the region.

“China is open to all countries developing friendly relations. So, we are okay with India developing friendly and cooperativ­e relations with Asean countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokespers­on Hua Chunying said.

“We hope all countries can work together for peace, stability and developmen­t of the region. We can all play a constructi­ve role in the regard,” Hua said.

India is holding a two-day India-asean Commemorat­ive Summit which is expected to give a boost to the cooperatio­n in key areas of counter-terrorism, security and connectivi­ty amidst increasing Chinese economic and military assertiven­ess in the region.

India has been pursuing an “Act East” policy of forging political and economic ties with Southeast Asia, but its efforts have been tentative and far trail China, whose trade with Asean was more than six times India’s in 2016-17 at $470 million.

China has also expanded its presence in South Asia, building ports and power plants in countries around India’s periphery, such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and spurring New Delhi to seek new allies.

Experts say New Delhi’s intent to deepen ties with the 10-nation bloc has also to do with countering China. China is gradually winning over its foes in the bloc like the Philippine­s and Vietnam, who are claimants to the disputed South China Sea.

Reacting to the view, Hua said this was a media creation.

“In recent days some Indian media seems to have cultivated a habit. They will link their domestic affairs with China,” Hua said.

The highest level of participat­ion at the summit is to mark the 25 years of Indo-asean ties.

 ?? PTI ?? Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) with Asean countries’ heads of states at the Rashtrapat­i Bhavan on Thursday.
PTI Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) with Asean countries’ heads of states at the Rashtrapat­i Bhavan on Thursday.

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