RCEP 16 trade ministers to meet in Bangkok on October 10-12

New Delhi: Trade ministers of 16 RCEP countries, including India and Japan, will hold a crucial meeting in Bangkok next week to take stock of the negotiations that are in the last phase, an official said.

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal will attend the eighth RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) Ministerial Meeting being held in Bangkok from 10-12 October.

The official said that this would probably be the last ministerial-level meeting as only a few issues like rules of origin are pending for finalisation.

The RCEP agreement is being negotiated among 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and their six trade partners -- Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.

According to the official, India is expected to reduce or eliminate duties on about 74-80 per cent of goods imported from China under the proposed agreement. Bilateral talks are still going on with the neighbouring country, with which India has a trade deficit of over USD 50 billion.

Similarly, India may cut customs duties on 86 per cent of imports from Australia and New Zealand, and 90 per cent for products imported from ASEAN, Japan and South Korea, with which India already has a comprehensive free trade agreement, the official added.

The cut or elimination of these duties could be implemented over a period of 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years.

Negotiations are also on for an auto-trigger mechanism, wherein India would have the option to increase customs duties if there would be a sudden surge in imports of a particular product particularly from China to protect the domestic industry.

India wants to use this mechanism for about 60-65 products being imported from China. However, China wants it for around 20 items.

The negotiations for the RCEP deal has reached at a fundamental phase as the member countries are targeting to conclude the talks by November.

As many as 28 rounds of talks have been held at chief negotiators level and no more rounds are scheduled now.

The development assumes significance as some sections of Indian industry have raised concerns over the presence of China in the grouping. Various sectors, including dairy, metals, electronics, and chemicals, have urged the government to not agree on duty cuts in these segments.

India has registered trade deficit in 2018-19 with as many as 11 RCEP member countries, including China, South Korea and Australia.

The agreement aims to cover issues related to goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights.

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