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‘Wish India joined RCEP, would like to see it back’, says South Korea trade minister Yeo Han-koo

Yeo was speaking at an ORF webinar, a day after discussing upgrade of India and South Korea’s CEPA with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal.

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New Delhi: South Korea regrets India’s absence from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which came into effect on 1 January 2022, and hopes to see New Delhi rejoin the agreement, the country’s trade minister Yeo Han-koo said Wednesday.

Speaking at a webinar organised by Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation, Yeo said: “We wish that India had joined RCEP as a founding member. I very much hope to see India’s participation as an economic powerhouse in the Indo-Pacific sooner than later.”

“Personally, I would very much like to see India back into the RCEP,” added Yeo.

The Narendra Modi government had walked out of the pact in November 2019 over various concerns, like the dumping of cheap goods in the Indian market.

Yeo’s comments come a day after he met Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal to provide fresh impetus for discussions on the upgrade of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

The two countries signed a CEPA in 2009, and now aim for $50 billion in bilateral trade volume by 2030.

“Thanks to CEPA, our bilateral trade has also recovered very quickly from the pandemic and reached a record-high of $23.6 billion after an annual increase of 40.5 per cent,” Yeo said at the webinar. 

According to commerce ministry data, bilateral trade between the two nations stood at $20.8 billion in 2017-2018, $21.4 billion in 2018-19, $20.5 billion in 2019-20 and $17.4 billion in 2020-21. 

Also read: With RCEP now in force, India must strengthen trade & engage with other blocs, say experts

‘New trading order in the Indo-Pacific’

Yeo also identified three areas in which India and South Korea had promising collaboration: Supply chains, digital trade and climate change. On the last of these, he said the two countries should collaborate on issues like harmonising emissions trading schemes and carbon pricing.

The minister called for India and South Korea to make efforts towards establishing a “new trading order” in the Indo-Pacific region.

“I strongly believe that our two countries must collaborate closely… towards a new trading order in the Indo-Pacific region that delivers open, transparent and an inclusive trade platform,” he said.

He noted a “seismic shift” in economic integration in the Indo-Pacific region, brought on by various multilateral pacts and the role of the US.

“We’ve witnessed the landscape change with the entering into force of CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) in 2018, the conclusion of RCEP agreement as the largest free trade agreement which entered into force from early this year, and the Indo-Pacific economic framework being developed by the United States,” he said.

“The Korean government has been working on building trust-based bilateral, multilateral partnerships in the Indo-Pacific through its participation in mega FTAs (Free Trade Agreements) such as RCEP, CPTPP and we are also considering the Indo-Pacific economic framework.”

That said, the minister also observed that there are “synergies” between Korea’s New Southern Policy and India’s Act East policy, adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)

Also read: India, South Korea hold strategic dialogue, explore tech partnership, supply chain resilience


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