RCEP signatories ready for negotiations once India gives written request to join pact

On November 4, 2019, India walked out of mega free trade agreement RCEP as negotiations failed to address New Delhi’s outstanding issues and concerns

Countries that have signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement can start negotiations with India for joining the pact once New Delhi submits a written request stating its intention for the same, according to a declaration.

On November 4, 2019, India walked out of mega free trade agreement RCEP as negotiations failed to address New Delhi’s outstanding issues and concerns.

The remaining 15 member countries have signed RCEP agreement and have stated that the pact would remain open to India.

Now the members of RCEP are 10-nation bloc ASEAN (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“The RCEP signatory states will commence negotiations with India at any time after the signing of RCEP agreement once India submits a request in writing of its intention to accede to RCEP agreement to the depositary of the RCEP agreement, taking into consideration the latest status of India’s participation in RCEP negotiations and any new development thereafter,” according to the Ministers’ Declaration on India’s Participation in RCEP.

The declaration is dated November 11.

It said the pact is open for accession by India from the date of entry into force of the agreement.

It also stated that any time prior to its accession, India can participate in RCEP meetings as an observer and in economic cooperation activities undertaken by the signatory states, on terms and conditions to be jointly decided upon by the 15 countries.

Further, according to a joint leaders’ statement on RCEP, India’s accession to the agreement would be welcome in view of its participation in the negotiations since 2012 and its strategic importance as a regional partner in creating deeper and expanded regional value chains.

The heads of state/government of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, met virtually on November 15, 2020 on the occasion of the fourth RCEP summit.

“We were pleased to witness the signing of the RCEP agreement, which comes at a time when the world is confronted with the unprecedented challenge brought about by COVID-19,” the joint statement said.

Commenting on the development, Biswajit Dhar, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University said without India, the RCEP pact would not have much relevance.

“Without India, the agreement would not have much of a relevance because the aim of the pact was to consolidate a big market by including countries like India and China together,” he said.

He added that Japan, Australia and New Zealand are trying to bring India back on the negotiating table.

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