India negotiations stall with focus on RCEP

20 September 2016

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo has called a pause and review of the bilateral trade deal the government is negotiating with India.

It appears that India has been reluctant to reduce tariffs for Australia because it wants to retain its bargaining power for the much bigger Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The delay is welcome news, especially in the light of recent discoveries of deadly asbestos from imported materials on a number of projects in Australia. India is the second biggest manufacturer of products with asbestos, and the CFMEU construction union recently called for a halt  to the bilateral trade talks until there were better protections to prevent imports of asbestos products.

However, this will be an issue during ongoing RCEP negotiations, which include both India and China. The aim is now to finish RCEP negotiations mid-2017 and the next negotiating rounds are scheduled for October and December 2016.

Other major issues we will be keeping an eye on as RCEP negotiations progress are TPP-like proposals on ISDS, medicine monopolies and movement of temporary workers.

Civil society organisations in the Asia Pacific, including AFTINET, are advocating for greater transparency throughout the RCEP negotiations. Recently, more than sixty civil society organisations covering all sixteen RCEP countries called for meaningful stakeholder engagement after they were locked out the latest negotiating round in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We have since been informed that there will be some limited opportunities for engagement at talks in Indonesia in December.

While we welcome this, it remains a fact that even the TPP negotiations contained more opportunities for civil society engagement than the RCEP has so far. We will continue to call for an end to the secrecy in the RCEP and all other trade deals.