Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets members of the Indian community in Bangkok, Thailand.(PTI)
India remains committed to a “balanced outcome” of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, and will seek to protect its interests in trade in goods, services, and investments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday, as he embarked on a visit to Thailand, where he will attend a summit that will hold talks on the Asia-wide deal that will create the world’s largest trading bloc.
The Prime Minister, who reached Thailand on Saturday and will attend the RCEP summit and two other key events in the next three days in Nonthaburi, said that addressing India’s concerns over “unsustainable trade deficits” remains important and that opening the vast Indian market must be matched by openings in some areas where Indian businesses can benefit.
Southeast Asian leaders meeting in Thailand hope to make progress on the China-backed RCEP, which would comprise 16 countries that account for a third of global gross domestic product and nearly half the world’s population. Talks are expected to continue on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bangkok after a press conference was cancelled on Friday, raising questions whether ministers could reach agreement in their last formal negotiations ahead of a summit on the regional partnership on Monday, according to Reuters.
News agency Press Trust of India quoted unnamed officials as saying that except India, all 15 RCEP member countries were on board in finalising the deal when leaders of the grouping hold a summit meeting on Monday.
In an interview to Bangkok Post, Modi said: “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.”
“India remains committed to a comprehensive and balanced outcome from the ongoing RCEP negotiations. Its successful conclusion is in the interest of everyone involved. Hence, India seeks balance across goods, services and investments and also within each pillar,” he added.
People aware of the matter have previously told Hindustan Times that the Indian leadership is determined to protect the interests of the domestic industry, agriculture and farm sectors before concluding any free trade agreement (FTA).
The RCEP is a proposed FTA covering 16 countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — the 10 members of Asean, and its six FTA partners — China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. India has FTAs with Asean, Japan and South Korea. FTAs are arrangements between two or more countries that primarily agree to reduce or eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers on substantial trade between them.
The Prime Minister will attend the 16th ASEAN-India Summit, the 14th East Asia Summit and the third summit meeting of RCEP which is negotiating the trade deal.
“At the RCEP Summit, we will take stock of the progress in RCEP negotiations. We will consider all issues including whether India’s concerns and interests in trade in goods, services, and investments are being fully accommodated, during this summit,” Modi said in a statement in New Delhi ahead of his visit.
On the India-ASEAN summit, Modi said the focus will be on deepening economic partnerships, and expanding maritime cooperation besides enhancing ASEAN-led mechanisms.
The annual ASEAN summit, a grouping of 10 influential countries, is taking place amid China’s aggressive behaviour in the disputed South China Sea as well as in the Indo-Pacific region. The powerful grouping will have separate summits with its dialogue partners like India, the US, Japan, Russia and China.
Addressing members of the Indian diaspora during an event named ‘Sawasdee PM Modi’ after arriving in Bangkok, the PM said northeast India was being developed as a gateway to south-east Asia under the central government’s Act East Policy (AEP).
“Our focus is to connect India’s north-east with Thailand. Northeast is being developed as a gateway to south-east Asia. This initiative will immensely strengthen India’s Act East policy and Thailand’s Act West policy,” he said.
Recounting his government’s achievements in the past five years, Modi said that 80 million homes in India were provided free cooking gas connections in just three years. “This number is bigger than Thailand’s entire population.”
The Prime Minister’s reference to the Centre’s move to effectively scrap Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, received a standing ovation from the crowd gathered at the event. “India has taken a massive decision to free itself from separatism and terrorism,” Modi said.
He said the transformation brought about in India is the reason that his government got a bigger mandate in the 2019 general elections.