RCEP talks: India seeks concessions on services

NEW DELHI - India is committed to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), but needs to see concessions on services, a high-ranking official from its Commerce Ministry said on Friday (July 20).

The Asean-led RCEP is an ambitious trade pact being negotiated between the 10 members of Asean and its six major trading partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Collectively, the 16 countries account for about half the world's population, 30 per cent of its economy and trade, and a quarter of global exports.

Speaking at the 10th edition of the Delhi Dialogue on Friday, Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said the RCEP made sense for India only if it gets concessions on services. Services includes the movement of workers and professionals.

India stands committed to constructively engage in the negotiations for an early and satisfactory conclusion of the RCEP, she said, but noted that Asean and other member countries were not willing to give concessions on services.

"This is the difficulty," she said.

Talks for the mega trade deal were launched in 2012 with the countries negotiating an agreement in goods as well as in services and investment. India is facing flak for holding up negotiations.

India has been wary of opening its markets to China with which it already has a huge trade deficit of US$51 billion (S$69.5 billion) in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

It is seeking a services deal that will allow millions of the country's skilled professionals to work in RCEP member countries.

The Delhi Dialogue is an annual gathering of political and business leaders, policymakers and think-tanks to discuss issues related to India and Asean.

A whole range of issues between India and Asean were discussed at the two-day event, which India sees as an important part of its Act East Policy, an outreach to South-east Asia.

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakhrishnan was among the speakers at the event.

Dr Balakhrishnan, in his speech on Thursday, said he hoped the RCEP would be concluded by the end of the year.

"That is why, in fact, at this time when there is a pushback against trade liberalisation in some of the more advanced parts of the world, it is all the more important for India and Asean to double down on the cause of free trade," he said.