The Union Government on August 6, 2018 constituted a four-member Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by the Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Suresh Prabhu.
The GoM has been constituted to advise Prime Minister Narendra Modi on whether to continue with or withdraw from the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations.
The GoM also includes Finance and Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Puri.
The first meeting of the GoM will be held on August 10, 2018 and will be attended by the Cabinet Secretary besides secretaries of all other concerned departments. In the run-up to the meeting, Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan is separately meeting all the secretaries to brief them on India’s position on the various issues in the RCEP.
GoM to decide on India’s membership in RCEP
Pressure on India has been rising to allow more market access to RCEP member countries including China and conclude the negotiations by 2018 December-end.
Several countries in the grouping want India to open up its market for 92 percent of traded goods, while they remain reluctant to allow Indian skilled professionals greater access to their markets.
However, India is ready to offer access for up to 85 percent of items, with deviations for countries such as China, Australia and New Zealand, with whom it does not have a free-trade agreement.
India has a trade deficit with 10 RCEP countries including China, South Korea and Australia, among others.
The GoM has been mandated to find a way forward from this current deadlock. The industries as well as several departments are not willing to yield anything more to RCEP countries.
The RCEP Summit is scheduled to be held in November 2018, by which time, India has to tell other countries whether it wants to be in or out. The GoM will also help India fine tune its strategy for the upcoming RCEP ministerial meet on 30 and 31 August in Singapore.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
• The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a proposed free trade agreement between 16 member countries.
• These 16 member countries comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc and six ASEAN Free Trade Agreements (FTA) partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
• The ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
• In August 2012, the Economic Ministers of these 16 countries endorsed the guiding principles and objectives for negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
• The RCEP negotiations had commenced in early 2013.
• The objective of RCEP negotiations is to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement among the ASEAN Member States and ASEAN’s FTA partners.
• The coverage areas of RCEP negotiation includes trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, Small And Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and other issues.
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