RCEP may turn into a reality soon: MEA Secretary Anil Wadhwa

Source: The Economic Times | February 17, 2016

NEW DELHI: With the Trans-Pacific Partnership accord in place, India should expedite conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement in the country’s interest, a top official said today, pointing out the pact may “turn into a reality” very soon.

“Negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have moved satisfactorily, with modalities being agreed in August 2015.

“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,” Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs Anil Wadhwa said.

The US, Japan and 10 other Pacific-Rim nations recently reached a final agreement on the largest regional trade accord in history dubbed as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal.

The mega trade agreement will certainly have an impact on India’s exports in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, textiles and chemicals, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said recently.

The 16-member bloc RCEP comprises 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.

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 USD 75 trillion.

Addressing a Delhi Dialogue-VIII session on ASEAN-India Relations, Wadhwa said enhancing India-ASEAN trade is a priority area under the new Plan of Action to implement the ASEAN-India partnership for peace, progress and shared prosperity (2016-20).

The Plan of Action envisages a number of steps in the areas of trade and investment, finance, transport, food, agriculture, forestry, information and communication technology, tourism, science, technology and innovation and mining & natural resources management.

“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,” he said.

Wadhwa said the ASEAN-India Trade Negotiating Committee has been tasked to undertake review of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement, which came into effect on January 1, 2010, noting that the review will help optimize its utilization and bring it up-to-date with today’s standards.

Stressing on deeper ASEAN-India collaboration, Wadhwa said: “We need to undertake capacity building programmes, workshops and seminars that focus on the ASEAN-India FTA, Rules of Origin, services liberalization, regulatory aspects of ecommerce, elimination of non-tariff barriers, competition policy and intellectual property rights, SME cooperation and promotion”.

He said the government is keen to facilitate cross border trade between our North-eastern states and neighbouring ASEAN countries by setting up more border trade points and Haats.

“Under the MoU on Border Haats along the India-Myanmar border signed in 2012, it has been agreed to set up 9 Border Haats or markets in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram,” Wadhwa said.

Along with the construction of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multi-modal Project, we are also at the final stages of a Motor Vehicles Agreement between India, Myanmar and Thailand which will address soft connectivity issues, the Secretary (East) pointed out.

“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 said.

He highlighted the need for greater collaboration in development of infrastructure and sustainable energy promoting private sector cooperation in the development and utilization of renewable and alternative energy sources; clean energy technologies and energy efficient technologies through institutional capacity building; the facilitation of trade and investment in the energy sector; and liberalization of power trade among ASEAN member states and India.

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