APEC membership pitched as India’s gateway to international trade pacts

New York, July 21 (IANS) Business and policy leaders Monday pitched membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group as India’s gateway to participation in international trade agreements and for taking greater advantage of the benefits of globalisation.

Speaking at the launch of a task force here on charting India’s path to APEC membership, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said India joining the 21-member group would be essential for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious “Make in India” initiative and to achieve his target of increasing Indian exports to $900 billion and adding 100 million jobs by 2020.

APEC membership would help India develop “the culture of trade liberalisation,” he added.

The task force was set up by the Asia Society Policy Institute, which Rudd now heads. He is the panel’s co-chair along with MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, who chairs the US-India Business Council, and former foreign secretary Shyam Saran.

Banga said that joining APEC would be a gamechanger for India and could pave the way for its eventual entry into international trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.

Among the benefits for India from APEC, Banga said, would be that it would adopt norms in areas like taxation, foreign investment and intellectual property that would lay the groundwork for free trade agreements and multilateral pacts. That would level the playing field in trade for India, he added.

Speaking through a video link from Delhi, Saran said that India was committed at the highest levels to pursuing membership in the APEC and noted that President Barack Obama expressed support for it during his Republic Day visit to India.

Membership in the APEC would promote equal participation by government and private institutions and help deal with the disconnect between policy and business, he said.

Founded in 1989 at Australia’s initiative, APEC’s members include the US, Russia, China, Australia and Japan. It represents 2.8 billion people and accounts for 57 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 47 percent of global trade.

The organisation had a moratorium on new membership for a decade, which has now been lifted. The host of last year’s APEC summit, Beijing, invited India to participate in it as an observer, but New Delhi did not attend it.

Alyssa Ayres, the former US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said that it was in US strategic interests for India to deepen links to Asia. The US Pivot to Asia and Modi’s Act East policy converged, she added, speaking from Washington.

India has been left behind in major global trade agreements, said Fred Bergsten, a Senior Fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Because of this, he said, India suffered tens of billions in trade diversion losses.

To achieve the growth rates of 8 to 10 percent for lifting millions out of poverty, India would have to participate in the global trade system, he added.

Chandrajit Banerjee, the Director General of the Confederation of Indian Industry, said that APEC membership would help leverage investment to India. While larger Indian companies have been players in the world trade system, small and medium sectors in India have not been to the same degree and APEC would promote their participation in the global supply chain.

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