India pulled out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) last year as joining it would have resulted in fairly negative consequences for the country’s economy, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday. In an address at an online discussion organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies, Jaishankar also forcefully pressed for reform of the United Nations, saying one or two countries must not be allowed to halt the process for their “perpetual gain”.
On the proposed free trade agreement between India and the European Union, Jaishankar said New Delhi was looking for a “fair and balanced” pact. Asked about the RCEP, the external affairs minister said India withdrew from it as a number of key concerns flagged by it were not addressed.
His comments came three days after 15 Asia-Pacific economies signed the RCEP agreement creating the world’s largest free trade area. “Essentially, we saw that a number of our key concerns were not addressed. 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 an online discussion organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies.
“We took a call that given the way it is currently, it is not in our interest to enter this agreement because it would have fairly immediate negative consequences for our own economy,” he said.
The RCEP deal sealed on Sunday comprised 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and five of the bloc’s dialogue partners — China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. “Because you are negotiating does not mean you have to suspend your ability to calculate at the end of the negotiation. I think we made those calculations. Very frankly, what we did with regard to RCEP is not a generic position vis-a-vis trade,” said Jaishankar.
India was part of the RCEP negotiations for nearly seven years. The unresolved issues included inadequate protection against import surge, lack of credible assurances to India on market access, non-tariff barriers and possible circumvention of rules of origin by certain countries. Referring to the long-pending India-EU free trade agreement (FTA), Jaishankar said: “We want a fair and balanced FTA”, but added that what is fair and balanced is a subject of negotiation.
“I recognise that an FTA with Europe is not an easy negotiation, probably in the world, it must be the most difficult negotiation. It is a very high standard FTA,” he said. The FTA talks have been stalled since May 2013, when both sides failed to bridge substantial gaps on crucial issues, including data security status for the IT sector. Launched in June 2007, negotiations for the proposed agreement have witnessed many hurdles as both sides have major differences on crucial issues.
In his observations, Jaishankar also talked about “economic multipolarity” as well and how it changes for different countries. “When I look at my trade accounts; my economic accounts, I actually have five big accounts which are the US, European Union, China, ASEAN and the Gulf. These five are the five economic poles around which much of my trade and my investment is organised,” he said.
“For me to get the best out of it, in a multipolar world, there is a very simple rule of negotiation which is if you advance on any account, you advance on all accounts. “So you constantly need to keep going forward, forward and forward, because the moment you fall back on an account, you fall back on all accounts,” he said On the United Nations, he said it was set up 75 years back and needs urgent reforms to reflect the realities of the world at present.
“Everything needs some kind of refreshing, updating, etc. We cannot let the interest of one or two countries which want to freeze one moment of the history for their perpetual gain to continue,” he said.
Jaishankar said allowing the “stalemate” to continue will harm the UN.