Official: Cajoling India priority for RCEP

Official: Cajoling India priority for RCEP

Thailand is set to fully support all attempts to convince India to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), reiterating that the pact will be signed as scheduled at the Asean Summit in Vietnam next year.

Yesterday, Ronnarong Phoolpipat, an adviser from the Commerce Ministry and chief negotiator at the RCEP, said at a seminar held by the Trade Negotiations Department that Thailand still believes Japan will sign the RCEP next year, despite reports Japan is not considering signing a regional trade pact that does not have India.

India announced last month it was withdrawing from RCEP, because of the deal's potential impact on the livelihoods of its most vulnerable citizens. China said the 15 remaining countries would move forward and India was welcome to join RCEP whenever it's ready.

"Thailand still wants India as part of RCEP and the country is ready to fully support Japan and other countries trying to convince India to join negotiations," said Mr Ronnarong.

RCEP is a proposed free-trade agreement between the 10 member states of the Asean and six dialogue partners: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Arm Tungnirun, a lecturer on law at Chulalongkorn University, said in terms of geopolitics, RCEP is unavoidable. China is challenging the US to become the world's most powerful nation, he said.

"Previously, the US was the leader who regulated the world's economic regimes through the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organization," said Mr Arm. "But the game has completely changed and China has become rich and more powerful."

He predicted more global economic polarisation, as evidenced by the trade war.

"RCEP is important psychologically in this region, but Asean desperately needs to take the lead in the pact, not China, which will be busy handling the impact of the trade war and dealing with the supply chain impact."

Piti Srisangnam, the director of academic affairs of the Asean Studies Centre at Chulalongkorn University, said India's eagerness to join RCEP depends Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government finding compromises with domestic political parties and business groups, particularly for dairy, cheese, yoghurt, automobiles and garments.

However, he said with or without India, Thailand still stands to benefit from greater market access the pact allows.

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