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Fate of RCEP FTA hinges on 14 pending issues, mostly raised by India

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14 pending issues will make or break the worlds biggest free trade deal - Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - which is seeing last minute hiccups. 

Fate of RCEP FTA hinges on 14 pending issues, mostly raised by India

Fourteen pending issues will make or break the world's biggest free trade deal - Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - which is seeing last-minute hiccups. A meeting of trade ministers in Bangkok failed to break the logjam in parleys, after which the 14 point work programme was shared with the 16 member group of nations to save the deal. 

RCEP FTA group includes India, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and the ASEAN nations. 

Sources told CNBC-TV 18 that a deadline of 22 October has been set to untangle the pending issues on RCEP FTA. After the deadline gets over, it will be up to the RCEP nation heads of states to take a call on topics that do not see any resolution when they meet in November first week. 

Interestingly, at least 6 of the pending issues relate specifically to India, where the domestic industry is concerned about spike in imports from China due to the free trade pact. 

To protect interest of the domestic industry, India has demanded that the base year for tariff cuts under RCEP FTA should be advanced from 2014 to 2019.

India maintains that in the 5 year period, tariffs were increased on several thousand products and hence 2019 should be the year based on which tariff cuts should be carried out under the RCEP FTA.

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. The intention of this provision is that in the future if any RCEP member lowers duties for a non RCEP nation under a trade pact, similar benefits will also have to be automatically offered to the RCEP FTA countries. 

In addition, India has sought stringent rules of origin rules - which mandates minimum value addition that needs to be undertaken in a supply chain, before that product is exported from an RCEP country to India. 

Last but not least, the work programme also seeks India to make commitments to the best of its ability on e-commerce - a sector where data localisation norms have become an issue for foreign companies.

Negotiators from India will be travelling to Bangkok tomorrow to try and iron out the final issues with trade diplomats from the RCEP member countries.

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