RCEP conclusion fails amid India’s withdrawal

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi.

A free-trade deal between members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their five trading partners failed to be signed amid India’s withdrawal from the pact.

A joint statement issued by the countries’ leaders said that they failed to sign the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which has been pending conclusion already for seven years.

The leaders said the conclusion is scheduled anew to next year.

“We noted 15 RCEP Participating Countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters 1 and essentially all their market access issues; and tasked legal scrubbing by them to commence for signing in 2020,” the statement read.

The 10-member ASEAN include the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos. It was supposed to have six partners—China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and India—but the latter withdrew from the proposed pact during a summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand this week.

India’s rejection was due to fears that its manufacturing sector would be hardly-hit by cheap made-in-China products particularly in agriculture and textile sectors as it is currently suffering from slowing manufacturing and consumption activities.

The RCEP was meant to account for 30 percent of the global gross domestic product.

“We have conveyed to the participating countries that we will not be joining the RCEP,” Vijay Thakur Singh, a senior diplomat in charge of East Asia for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, announced on Monday.

“Our decision was guided by the impact this agreement will have on the ordinary human beings of India and livelihood of people, including the poorest of the poor,” she added.

In the statement, ASEAN and its members said they would work on resolving outstanding issues with India.

“India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues,” the statement read.

“RCEP will significantly boost the region’s future growth prospects and contribute positively to the global economy, while serving as a supporting pillar to a strong multilateral trading system and promoting development in economies across the region,” it added.

Should outstanding issues be resolved, the 15 leaders said they are willing to welcome India even if the pact is signed prior to its inclusion.

“Whenever India is ready, it is welcome to get on board,” said China deputy foreign minister Le Yucheng.

Meanwhile, South Korean leader Moon Jae-In said that the pact was again faced with “the high winds of trade protectionism.”

“We need to protect the free-trade order … and bring the global economy back on track,” Moon said.