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RCEP: India’s stance unchanged even as 15 others invite it as observer, keep door open


New Delhi: India’s decision to not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) remains unchanged, an official said, despite calls by the grouping “expressing their strong will to re-engage” the country, a year after it pulled out of the trade pact.

The 15 countries that have signed the RCEP agreement can start negotiations with India for joining the pact once New Delhi submits a written request stating its intention for the same, the grouping said in a declaration last week.

“Expressing their strong will to re-engage India in the RCEP Agreement, the RCEP Ministers affirmed that the abovementioned arrangements will commence on the date of the signing of the RCEP Agreement, and will continue until India accedes to the RCEP Agreement,” they said in the Ministers’ Declaration on India’s Participation in RCEP dated November 11.

India walked out of mega free trade agreement on November 4 last year as negotiations failed to address New Delhi’s outstanding issues and concerns, including a burgeoning trade deficit with China, despite being in negotiations for seven years.

The RCEP now comprises the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) nations, as well as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

“India’s stance remains the same since the Bangkok ministerial and there is no further change at this point of time. This statement is given by the 15 participants at the signing ceremony, but our stance is static,” the official said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last year said India was out of the pact, but the joint statement of the remaining 15 RCEP members had left a window open for further negotiations through bilateral parleys.

“Further, we would highly value India’s role in RCEP and reiterate that the RCEP remains open to India as one of the 16 original participating countries,” the ministers said in the latest declaration.

As per the final provisions of the agreement, the RCEP agreement is open for accession by a country 18 months after its entry comes into force, although the agreement is open for accession by India as an original negotiating State from the date of its entry into force, without waiting for 18 months.

“Any time prior to its accession to the Agreement, India may participate in RCEP meetings as an observer and in economic cooperation activities undertaken by the RCEP Signatory States under the RCEP Agreement, on terms and conditions to be jointly decided upon by the RCEP Signatory States,” they said.

As per the declaration, the RCEP signatory states will commence negotiations with India once it submits a request in writing of its intention to accede to the agreement taking into consideration the latest status of India’s participation in the RCEP negotiations and any new development thereafter.

“If India joins the RCEP as it is, it would be inconsistent with its current stance with respect to China and strengthening manufacturing,” said Biswajit Dhar, a professor at JNU.

RCEP consists of 20 chapters, 17 annexes and 54 market access schedules. It includes chapters on trade in goods, services, investment, intellectual property, e-commerce, government procurement, MSMEs and economic cooperation.

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