RCEP free trade pact may be reality soon: Official

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) India should expedite conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement in the country’s interest, particularly after the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, the government said on Wednesday.

“Negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership have moved satisfactorily, with modalities being agreed in August 2015,” Secretary (East) in the external affairs ministry Anil Wadhwa said here at the Delhi Dialogue symposium organised jointly by the ministry and industry chamber Ficci.

“If the technical negotiations which are underway are completed swiftly, RCEP may turn into a dynamic reality very soon, particularly if we succeed in forming regional value chains and production networks. With the TPP becoming a reality, expediting RCEP is in our interest,” he said.

The 16-member RCEP is composed of the 10 Asean members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six free trade agreement partners — India, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The US, Japan and 10 other Pacific-Rim nations recently concluded the TPP agreement described as largest regional trade pact in history.

RCEP negotiations were launched in Phnom Penh in November. The 16 countries account for over a quarter of the world’s economy, estimated to be more than $75 trillion.

Addressing the session on Asean-India Relations, Wadhwa said: “In the past year, a significant achievement has been the completion of the Asean-India Free Trade Area with the entry into force of the Asean-India Agreements on Trade in Services and Investment on July 1, 2015.

“So far, India, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand have ratified the agreements. Lao PDR has ratified the Agreement on Trade in Services. We request you to use your good offices to encourage the remaining Asean countries to ratify the agreement at an early date.”

“We have enhanced the Asean-India Science and Technology Fund from $1 million to $5 million with effect from this year, which will go towards setting up of an Asean-India Innovation Platform to facilitate commercialization of low cost technologies and collaborative R&D projects,” he added.

Wadhwa also said the government is keen to facilitate cross-border trade between India’s northeastern states and neighbouring ASEAN countries by setting up more border trade points.

“Under the MoU on Border Haats along the India-Myanmar border signed in 2012, it has been agreed to set up nine Border Haats, or markets, in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram,” he said.

India on Wednesday ratified the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) trade facilitation agreement (TFA) which could increase global merchandise exports by up to $1 trillion annually.

Meanwhile, official data earlier this week showed the country’s exports declined 13.6 percent in January in US dollar terms over the same month a year ago, marking the fourteenth straight month of decline in India’s exports.

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