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RCEP negotiators asked to settle issues by October 22

16/10/2019

Trade ministers and negotiators of the 16 nations will have to present to their respective leaders which issue can or can’t be settled now so that appropriate announcement can be made at the leaders’ summit next month, according to the source.

Even as differences between India and some others at the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks persist, the group’s members have decided that all issues must be settled by negotiators by October 22, virtually leaving little time for New Delhi to make up its mind on sticky points.

The issues that are not settled by October 22 will be frozen for a decision only by the leaders (heads of states), before they are expected to meet on November 4 to announce the RCEP deal, a source close to the development told FE.

Trade ministers and negotiators of the 16 nations will have to present to their respective leaders which issue can or can’t be settled now so that appropriate announcement can be made at the leaders’ summit next month, according to the source.

However, New Delhi will have the scope to settle its differences on issues, including tariffs and safeguards, with countries like China bilaterally. However, even that window may not last long.

Despite two days of intense negotiations through October 12, certain issues relating to trade remedies, e-commerce, trade competition, trade in services, rules of origin and investment remained unresolved, another source had said on Sunday. Consequently, no joint statement came out of the meeting of trade ministers at Bangkok last week, which was expected to be the last ministerial before the announcement of the deal in November by the heads of the states.

Most members want to conclude the negotiations in 2019 so that a deal can be formally signed in 2020. Some of them are upset with what they say India’s “recalcitrance” in sealing a deal early. Singapore, for instance, is learnt to have asked India, at the ministerial, to make up its mind about the deal. For its part, India has been trying to safeguard the interest of its industry that has been vehemently opposing the deal, fearing dumping by the members, especially China.

Safeguards, particularly, remain a crucial part of India’s negotiations, as the government faces mounting domestic opposition to any RCEP deal. Already, scores of industries have expressed fears of dumping by China, while the dairy industry, including players like Amul, have apprehended that subsidised dairy products from New Zealand would flood the Indian market.

A source had earlier told FE that India was planning to employ an “auto-trigger” safeguard mechanism for imports from not just China but also Australia and New Zealand to better protect domestic players from irrational spike in imports. This mechanism will typically come into play once imports of a particular sensitive product breach a stipulated limit. India is in negotiations to be able to invoke “auto-trigger” in case of 68 sensitive products for at least 8-10 years initially.

Source: Financial Express