But New Delhi is open to discuss its concerns; UPA blamed for initiating talks for the pact

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal has clarified that India has taken a final decision to stay out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement for the present, but if the 15-member bloc made sincere efforts to resolve its concerns then it could talk to them.

“As we have said the present decision (to exit RCEP) is absolutely final. But as the 15 nations have themselves said…if they make a sincere effort to resolve our concerns and give us confidence and help us to balance the trade inequality….then I think every nation should talk to their friends. We have no enmity with anyone,” Goyal said addressing a question at a press conference on Tuesday on the joint statement issued by the RCEP Leaders in Bangkok stating that member countries will work together to address India’s concerns.

The joint statement, endorsed by heads of states from all 16 RCEP countries, including the 10-member ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, also stated that, “India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues.”

Goyal said that Prime Minister NarendraModi had taken a tough stand at the negotiations as all India’s demands were not being met by the RCEP countries. “Many of our demands had been accepted. But when we saw things in balance, we felt that we should not go for it,” the Minister said.

Contentious issues

Listing out the areas where India’s concerns remained, Goyal said that a big point of concern was the ‘rules of origin’. “Till all countries did not have similar tariffs, till then India would need protection to ensure that goods from one country should not find its way into its market through another country by means of circumvention. India did not compromise on the matter,” he said.

Similarly India stood its ground on its demand that the base rate of duty (for calculating tariff cuts) should be 2019 instead of 2014, as agreed earlier, as those rates were not relevant any more, the Minister said.  He added that India had also been firm in its demand that an adequate Auto Trigger Safeguard Mechanism be put in place to save the economy against dumping of cheap imports and import surges. The country also did not want to accept `ratchet’ obligation in the investment chapter that would have prevented it from changing its existing rules.

Goyal also stressed that the decision to get into the RCEP negotiations was taken by the UPA and his government had to stay engaged as talks had already been initiated. The 15 RCEP countries, excluding India, announced a conclusion of the negotiations for a free trade pact between them and expressed hopes that the agreement would be signed sometime next year.