India enthusiastic about sealing RCEP
Asean's plan to complete talks this year on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) got a boost after India, one of the dialogue partners outside Asean, gave a positive political commitment to support negotiations that are to conclude in November.
According to acting commerce minister Chutima Bunyapraphasara, who just returned from a three-day visit to India, the country welcomed the chance to finish all negotiations relating to the RCEP later this year.
The conclusion of the talks is expected to be announced at the Asean summit held in Bangkok in November, Ms Chutima said.
She and Enggartiasto Lukita, Asean secretariat and Indonesia's minister of trade, met Piyush Goyal, India's commerce and industry minister, to discuss ways to speed up the negotiations, especially in the opening of goods, services and investment, so that the pact is in place by year-end.
"India has been asked to become more flexible on the talks," she said. "India has welcomed the request but asked the dialogue trading partners to heed its calls to open the service sector more. Thailand as Asean chair has requested India to specify the lists of services it wants bloc members to open."
According to Ms Chutima, India is amenable and would like to finish the talks by late this year.
There are still two RCEP ministerial meetings before the November summit, with the first scheduled for August in Beijing and the second for September in Bangkok.
"India has initially agreed to cut import tariffs to 0% for 70% of total goods items, and the remaining items will have gradual tariff cuts," Ms Chutima said.
The RCEP was launched in November 2012 with the aim of establishing deeper economic cooperation among the 10 Asean members and six dialogue partners (China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and New Zealand).
Signatory countries to the RCEP have a combined population of 3.56 billion, with a trading volume of more than US$10.3 trillion (319 trillion baht) or 29% of the world's trade.
Thailand's trade volume with RCEP members amounted to $290 billion in 2018 or 59.7% of total trade. The figure rose by 12.6% from 2017.
"We've made 60% progress in the RCEP talks, as we've already completed the negotiations on seven chapters of the 20 RCEP chapters," Ms Chutima said. "We are also negotiating on the remaining 13 chapters and aim to finish the talks within this year, as announced by Asean leaders, with the pact due to become effective by late 2020 at the latest."
She said negotiators made preliminary agreements on an additional two issues, competition policy and dispute settlement.