Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar on Wednesday said that India did not sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, last week because it would have had “immediate negative consequences” for the country’s economy, PTI reported.
The foreign minister also said that several key concerns of India were not addressed by the trade agreement. “We had to then take a call whether you enter a trade agreement if your major concerns are not addressed or do you take a call saying this is not in my interest,” Jaishankar said during a virtual discussion.
Jaishankar added: “We took a call that given the way it [the agreement] is currently, it is not in our interest to enter this agreement because it would have fairly immediate negative consequences for our own economy.”
The foreign minister said that India was, however, looking at a “fair and balanced” free trade agreement with the European Union. “I recognise that an FTA [free trade agreement] with Europe is not an easy negotiation, probably in the world, it must be the most difficult negotiation,” Jaishankar said, according to the news agency. “It is a very high standard FTA.”
Last week, China and 14 other countries agreed to set up the RCEP, which is the world’s largest trading bloc. The bloc was signed virtually on the sidelines of the annual summit of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The trade agreement also includes China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The United States is not a member.
India was another notable absentee during the signing. India had pulled out of the agreement last year over concerns about cheap Chinese goods entering the country. But officials said the accord leaves the door open for India to rejoin the bloc. The deal came at a time of heightened military tensions between India and China in eastern Ladakh.
The trade agreement aims to do away with tariffs and duties between the members so that goods and services can be exchanged freely. It will account for 30% of the global economy, 30% of the global population, and reach 2.2 billion [220 crore] consumers, according to Vietnam, which hosted the ceremony as chair of ASEAN. Besides trade, the agreement also deals with intellectual property. But environmental protections and labour rights are not part of the pact.