India urged to protect its people and economy in RCEP talks

July 11, 2018: As the next round of negotiations in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership gets underway in Bangkok, the main dynamic is resistance by India to tariff reduction demands by Australia and New Zealand, and to medicine monopoly demands by Japan and South Korea. The RCEP involves the 10 ASEAN countries, plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The Center for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society in India has published a Country Briefer that spells out the challenges for India, which, they argue, so far has come out second from free trade agreements with ASEAN, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia.

In the RCEP India made differential offers of tariff cutes to the ASEAN countries, and then to South Korea and Japan, and the smallest to China, Australia and New Zealand – countries with which it has no existing FTA.

After 22 rounds of negotiations, India has doubled its tariff cut offer to China, Australia, New Zealand, but Australia and New Zealand are demanding more.

India has made greater access by its Information Technology professionals into the service sectors of RCEP countries a priority, but has made no apparent progress.

The author argues that the RCEP talks are shrouded in secrecy, no documents have been published, and leaks provide the only insights. India has made no public consultations with civil society, and the government faces widespread opposition and protests from trade unions, farmers, manufacturers and the generic medicine sector.

The Briefer spells out the likely negative impacts of the proposed RCEP on the trade deficit, loss of government revenue, loss of jobs in a high unemployment context, conversion of agricultural lands, increased price of seeds for farmers due to patenting of seed and plants, and delay of entry of generic medicines into the region.

It concludes that India would be prudent to focus on domestic economic reforms, invest in trade infrastructure and to address the problems with its existing FTAs. In the RCEP negotiations, India should stand firm protect its domestic industries and sectors, and the rights and welfare of the Indian people.