No RCEP signing until November 2020 as India does a cost benefit study and is asked to re-join

January 23, 2020: In November 2019 15 governments announced they had concluded the talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), but India withdrew from the negotiations. 

Indian concerns included the impact of lower tariffs on its agriculture and industry, but there had also been ongoing differences over investor rights to sue governments (ISDS) stronger monopolies on medicines that could delay the availability of cheaper medicines, and issues about the regulation of e-commerce.

The text remains secret and will not be made public until after it has been signed. AFTINET and 93 other civil society groups in the region have written to trade ministers asking for the text to be made available for public and parliamentary scrutiny before it is signed.

There have been reports that some contentious issues like ISDS and medicine monopolies have been removed from the text. This would be a victory for civil society campaigning, but cannot be confirmed until the text becomes public.

India’s withdrawal reduces the potential of increased market access for Australian products, since Australia has free trade agreements with all of the other RCEP countries, but not with India. Australia’s trade Minister has said that he hopes India will re-join the agreement.

Japanese trade officials have also asked India to re-join. And this week the 10 ASEAN governments publicly invited India to attend an RCEP meeting on February 3-4 .

Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said this week “We have not closed our mind to it. We have to look at cost and benefit. We will evaluate RCEP on economic and trade merit.”

There are now media reports that the deadline for completion of the RCEP text has been extended to June 2020, to accommodate further negotiations with India. If this deadline is achieved, the text will then be legally checked and will not be signed and become public until the ASEAN summit in November 2020.