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Contrary to reports, RCEP not held up by India's last-minute demands

Updated : November 04, 2019 03:12 PM IST

There have been reports of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal being halted due to last-minute demands by India. However, India has not made any special requests that would put the agreement in danger of falling through, people aware of the development in the government have told CNBC-TV18.

"Our position on this issue has been consistent and clear from the very beginning. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted in his interview with the Bangkok Post (published on 2 November)," said a person in the know of developments.

“We have put forward reasonable proposals in a clear manner and are engaged in negotiations with sincerity. We would like to see commensurate levels of ambition on services from many of our partners, even as we are ready to address their sensitivities. 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,” the source added.

However, reports have indicated that the 16-country RCEP will be delayed due to India's pushback against China.

Initially, Thailand was optimistic that they would be able to wrap up the RCEP at the summit but have been forced to walk that back saying they do not expect the RCEP deal to be signed before February 2020.

Although it has not been said publicly, it was reported that the agreement was held up because of India's stand. India had originally agreed to all the terms of of the RCEP but at the last minute raised concerns about the vulnerability of the country's farming and manufacturing sectors which would be exposed to a flood of imports, especially from China, should barriers including trade tariffs come down because of the RCEP, according to CNBC's Martin Soong said from ASEAN Summit in Bangkok.

India also pushed back on other 15 members wanting more access to Indian labour as well as Indian services, Soong reported.

However, there were early indications that India was not quite on board with the RCEP. Modi, said: “I welcomed the decision taken recently to review the ASEAN-India FTA. This will help not only to further strengthen our economic relations, but our trade will also be more balanced. We would also like to strengthen our partnership in areas such as maritime security, the blue economy, and in the area of humanitarian assistance.”

In his remarks Modi did not refer to the RCEP or any sort of a trade deal, an indication that India was not quite on-board with the RCEP deal, according to CNBC's report.

However, Thailand is not giving up and said the RCEP talks have been conclusive and there will soon be an announcement of a successful conclusion, including India. No timeframe was given for the completion of the deal.

Moreover, Australian officials also insist that the RCEP talks are still ongoing.
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