Union Government has constituted four-member Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Suresh Prabhu to decide on 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations. It was constituted to advise Prime Minister on whether to continue with or withdraw from RCEP negotiations.
Group of Ministers (GoM)
The GoM also includes Interim Finance and Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Puri. It has been mandated to find way forward from current deadlock over issues of joining RCEP or not. It will also help fine tune India’s strategy for the upcoming RCEP ministerial meet in August 2018 in Singapore. Besides, it will also help to finalize India’s position before RCEP Summit scheduled to be held in November 2018.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
RCEP is proposed free trade agreement (FTA) or comprehensive regional economic integration agreement between the 10-ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and its six FTA partners (Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Japan and Korea).
Its negotiations were formally launched at 2012 ASEAN Summit in Cambodia. Till 2017, 16 RCEP member states accounted for population of 3.4 billion people with total GDP (in terms of PPP) of $49.5 trillion, approximately 38% of the world’s GDP (combined GDPs of China and India makes up more than half that amount) and 29% of world trade.
So far, objective of RCEP negotiations is to achieve modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement among ASEAN Member States and its FTA partners. The coverage areas of RCEP negotiations included trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property, economic and technical cooperation, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, Small And Medium Enterprises (SMEs) etc.
There has been rising pressure on India to allow more market access to RCEP member countries including China and conclude negotiations by end of 2018. Several RCEP countries want India to open up its market for 92% of traded goods, while they are still reluctant to allow Indian skilled professionals greater access to their markets. India has maintained its position that it is ready to offer access for up to 85% of items, with deviations for countries such as Australia, New Zealand and China, with whom it does not have FTA. Besides, India also has trade deficit with 10 RCEP countries including China, South Korea and Australia, among others.