Feature Article

China launches world’s biggest regional trade agreement without Indian participation

[TamilNet, Monday, 16 November 2020, 18:45 GMT]
The ten-member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and five of ASEAN’s major trade partners, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea that also includes critical US allies and defence partners, have signed the trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), at a virtual conference hosted by Vietnam on Sunday. Asia’s first, second, and fourth-largest economies, China, Japan, and South Korea, and advanced economies like Singapore are signatories to the RCEP constituting almost a third of the world gross domestic product. “India withdrew from the RCEP talks late last year, following Prime Minister Modi’s increasing cooperation with the US-led Indo-Pacific initiative,” observed the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party, China Daily, in an opinion piece on Monday.

“But even without India, the combined economic muscle of the RCEP participants is almost a third of the world gross domestic product (GDP),” the Chinese op-ed noted. India has been provided observer status at the RCEP.

The RCEP could eliminate 90% of the tariffs on imports between its signatories within 20 years of coming into effect, “which could be by early as next year,” according to the Chinese media.

In 2019 November, India opted out of the RCEP negotiations after seven years of talks.

However, Japan and Australia, two of the US-led defence alliance, the Quad, are parties to the RCEP.

Japan and Australia have been pushing for India’s participation in the largest trading bloc covering half of the world population as they fear China would dominate the RCEP without India’s involvement.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who led the virtual summit, said the RCEP would “always keep the door open for India”.

The RCEP Agreement is “open for accession by any State or separate customs territory 18 months after its entry into force,” according to the official summary of the RCEP Agreement.

However, the RCP is already open for accession by India, as an original negotiating State, from the date of its entry into force, without waiting for 18 months, the summary notes.

In the meantime, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who addressed a virtual conference on Monday blamed the past regimes in India for the “unfair” deals negotiated earlier.

“It was quite extraordinary that an economy as attractive as India allowed the framework to be set by others. With the passage of time, our predicament became increasingly serious. The choice was to double down on an approach whose damaging consequences were already apparent or to have the courage to think through the problem for ourselves. We chose the latter,” Jaishankar told the Deccan Dialogue. The event was organised by the Indian School of Business in partnership with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

The ten-member countries of ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Of these, Myanmar is the only Southeastern Asian sharing a land border with India.

While Myanmar is pushing forward for economic cooperation with China discussing China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, India has been trying to lock the neighbouring country into maritime security cooperation. In October 2020, New Delhi donated a Soviet-era Kilo-class submarine to Myanmar. India is also pushing forward for exclusive naval collaboration with Colombo and Malé.

Myanmar faces charges of the genocide of Rohingya Muslims at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Myanmar’s leader ‘Peace Nobel laureate’ Aung San Suu Kyi, who defended the genocidal military of her state at the ICJ in 2019, has claimed a landslide victory in a disputed election held last week.

External Links:
ASEAN: Joint Leaders’ Statement on The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
China Daily: RCEP: Why world's largest free-trade pact matters



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