Threat or treat: on RCEP trade deal

The final agreement of RCEP covers various issues that India had flagged

Given that the RCEP members now account for about 30% of the global GDP and a third of the world’s population, the signatory states were emphatic that the timing of the accord presents a unique opportunity to support their economic recovery, inclusive development and job creation even as it helps strengthen regional supply chains. Interestingly, among the ASEAN signatories are several relatively far smaller economies including Vietnam and the Philippines, which not only continue to have their share of disputes with Beijing but also suffer significant trade imbalances with Asia’s largest economy. That these and other larger nations in the grouping have chosen to bury their geopolitical differences with China in order to prioritise what they collectively see as a mutually beneficial trading compact that would benefit their economies over the longer term is the clearest testament to economic realism trumping nationalist politics. Also, the summary of the final agreement shows that the pact does cover and attempt to address issues that India had flagged including rules of origin, trade in services, movement of persons and, crucially, remedies and safeguards. Acknowledging India’s economic heft and value as a market, the RCEP members have not only left the door open should New Delhi reconsider its stance but have also waived a key 18-month cooling period for interested applicants. It would be in India’s interest to dispassionately review its position and embrace openness rather than protectionism.

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