China-led Asian trade bloc pushes ahead as India steps aside

Signatories RCEP include the 10 ASEAN members plus China Japan South Korea Australia New Zealand and maybe India

India has decided not to join the multi-lateral trade bloc Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP).

"The present form of the RCEP agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP", government sources said, adding, "India stands for greater regional integration as well as for freer trade and adherence to a rule-based worldwide order". Briefing the media after the summit, Indian Ministry of External Affairs' Vijay Thakur Singh said that the decision was right for India given the current circumstances. "Overall, we are clear that a mutually beneficial RCEP, in which all sides gain reasonably, is in interests of India and of all partners in the negotiation", PM Narendra Modi noted in his interview with Bangkok Post.

The China-US trade war and rising protectionism had given new impetus to years of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which brings together the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Sources further said, "Our farmers, traders, professionals and industries have stakes in such decisions". Therefore, neither the Talisman of Gandhiji nor my own conscience permits me to join RCEP. India has significant outstanding issues, which remain unresolved.

India has been forcefully raising the issue of market access as well as protected lists of goods mainly to shield its domestic market as there have been fears that the country may be flooded with cheap Chinese agricultural and industrial products once it signs the deal.

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"Whenever India is ready, it is welcome to get on board", he said.

That trend has accelerated amid feuding between the United States and China over trade and technology, which has ramped up uncertainty as the two largest economies imposed billions of dollars' worth of punitive tariffs on each other's exports. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the RCEP deal would be bigger and better with India in it. The signing of the RCEP has been deferred to next year.

Another contentious issue raised by India is regarding an automatic trigger mechanism of import duties in case of spike in foreign shipments from RCEP nations. In the RCEP FTA work programme, India, China, Australia and New Zealand have been asked to resolve the issue.

India has also sought a carve out from a provision that syncs its preferential duty rates to the RCEP group.

"Against the backdrop of a fast-changing global environment, the completion of the RCEP negotiations will demonstrate our collective commitment to an open trade and investment environment across the region", the countries said in a statement. However, the impact of these decisions resulted in increased trade deficit with RCEP nations - from $7 billion in 2004 to $78 billion in 2014.

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