RCEP talks may miss December 2016 deadline: Sitharaman

The members of RCEP wanted to finish discussions by December 2016.

The Dollar Business Bureau

The deadline of closing the negotiations for the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by December this year would be missed, said Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday. 

The members of RCEP wanted to finish the discussions by December 2016. However, this seems not possible. The negotiations might go into 2017,” the minister told reporters.

The next meeting of ministers for progress review of the negotiations is going to be held in November. 

The trade ministers of RCEP including India, Japan and China had a meeting in Laos on August 5 to end the deadlock and sort out the issues which are holding back the negotiations. There are various complex issues, such as from the services sector, which are holding back the negotiations. 

While the RCEP members have now decided on a single tier system for relaxation of tariffs from the previous three-tier system, negotiations are still slow in services sector, India’s major interest area. 

“In services, detailed discussions have not happened. So we have to plough that field as we get nearer (to conclude the talks). We have also raised the concerns about delay in finalising the mutual recognition agreements (MRAs),” she said. 

MRAs have set the path for recognising the professional body of a nation by the other. Governing bodies of several professional services such as accountancy, architecture and engineering, are motivated to enter into these agreements. 

Unlike the ASEAN free trade pact in which separate FTAs were signed in goods and services, India is pushing to finish the RCEP negotiations in a single undertaking. 

Sitharaman further said that India is not on the backfoot on the negotiations and all members heard the country's views. 

RCEP, a mega trade agreement between 16 countries, is aimed to cover investments, goods, services, competition and intellectual property rights, economic and technical cooperation. The negotiations for the agreement started in November 2012 in Phnom Penh. 

The Dollar Business Bureau - Aug 25, 2016 12:00 IST