A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the ASEAN summit in Bangkok. | Photo: ANI
A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the ASEAN summit in Bangkok | Photo: ANI
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New Delhi: With the Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, set for a four-day visit to India starting 24 February, New Delhi is keen on resuming negotiations on the long-pending Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between the two countries, multiple sources have told ThePrint.

Birmingham will meet Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on Monday.

Australia and India had launched negotiations for a CECA in May 2011. There have been nine rounds of negotiations so far with the last formal round being held in September 2015.

The talks veered off course as both sides were engaged in discussing the ASEAN-led RCEP even as the two countries could not iron out differences over market access issues in agriculture and dairy products.

According to sources, now that India is out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks, it wants to focus on concluding the CECA. New Delhi is keen on clinching bilateral trade pacts with some of the key RCEP member countries such as Australia and New Zealand, with whom the negotiations have already started and some rounds have taken place.

But Australia is keen on bringing New Delhi back to the RCEP table. Hence, sources said, Canberra is going to make a “last-ditch attempt” to bring India to the RCEP table as it believes India, with a huge market, should not be left out of an integrated market that RCEP will be creating.

With yet another RCEP summit likely to be held next month (12-14 March), the remaining 15 members have decided to sign the pact with the option of India joining in later, sources said.   

Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to give it a miss this time, which will make it clear that India is “not interested” in the RCEP anymore.

New Delhi had even stayed out of the last informal meeting of RCEP chief negotiators, which was held in Bali, Indonesia, earlier this year. 

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Australia is one of the members of the proposed RCEP pact, along with Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

“Australia or for that matter anyone cannot speak for India. All of them need India because it has a big and growing market,” said Jayant Dasgupta, former Indian ambassador to World Trade Organisation (WTO). “Some of the key RCEP countries such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand only export; they do not manufacture anything. The stage has come when it makes no sense for India to attend the RCEP summits.”   

Some of the concerns that remain unaddressed for India within the RCEP are inadequate protection against import surge, differences with China over pricing structure of goods, possible circumvention of rules of origin, keeping the base year as 2014 for tariff reduction, as well as no credible assurances on market access and non-tariff barriers, Dasgupta added.

India to stay out of RCEP

Prime Minister Modi had on 4 November said no to RCEP at a summit held in Bangkok where leaders of the remaining 15 member countries gave their consent to formally sign the agreement by 2020. 

India mainly walked out of the RCEP since China demanded greater access to the Indian market across a wide range of goods, for which it wanted tariffs to be reduced to minimal, in some cases even nil.

“There is no appetite for RCEP anymore. And it was recently made clear during the Budget also by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The RCEP logic only hinges on India and China; the rest of the countries are mostly exporters,” said Biswajit Dhar, trade economist and professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. “It remains to be seen what kind of an integrated market RCEP will create. As of now, it will be too risky to join the RCEP.”   

India has also been facing stiff opposition from its industries and the farming community over the China-led RCEP and the over $60 billion trade deficit that New Delhi has with Beijing. The negotiations on the RCEP had started in 2012. 

Also read: No trade deal with US during Trump visit as India doesn’t want to rush into one



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3 Comments Share Your Views


  1. India is making a grave mistake! A bunch of nincompoops have been handling Indian foreign affairs since 1947.
    There is no other country in the world that is as friendless as India.
    Not a single neighbour can frankly be called a friend of India!
    Except Nepal we don’t have open borders with any country.
    There is no other country in the world in similar situation.
    We could not settle boundary with China since 1947/49 when both countries have new power systems and have been freed from colonial and imperialist yolk.
    No other country has such undetermined boundaries for that long.
    Kashmir issue has been festering and bleeding India, socially, economically and militarily bringing disrepute to the country since 1949. No other country kept such issue burning for this long.
    The Belt and Road initiative is god sent for India.
    India has to just lay road and rail connectivity inside it’s own boundaries! That’s not doing charity to anyone.
    If we have any other capacity, it’s a great employment generator for Indian labour force to engage in BRI work in treat of the world under Indian and even Chinese companies as we have English speaking technical manpower.
    The ground that China and Pakistan laid BRI road/rail network in the gilgit Baltistan area under the control of Pakistan thereby affecting the sovereignty of India is the craziest argument!
    China insisted and put in a clause with Pakistan in the BRI agreement conceding that that area is a disputed area, and whenever the disputes are settled between the respective parties, China will negotiate with the party to whom the control passes and the road/rail network presence will not be used for adverse inference.
    China has voluntarily done what India could ask.
    These idiots in external affairs ministry, always subservient to white supremacy and white colonial/imperial interests have been the cause of greatest damage to the possible development of Indian economy and political stature in the world.
    Indian politicians of all
    Parties must unite, examine all these anomalies and reign in these bunch of idiots acting as agents of USA and the west and their deputy sheriff Australia!

  2. Japan does not manufacture anything … The rest of the RCEP countries are mainly exporters … These statements are incomprehensible. 2. Whether India should join RCEP – I think it should – is for the government to decide. However, not doing so diminishes the chances that we can work out country specific FTAs with Australia or – in future – Britain, the US, or with the EU. The Indian economy is becoming both less integrated and less competitive. We can keep building walls to mask reality.


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