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Asean leaders push Delhi to conclude RCEP talks by this year

Visiting leaders, especially Indonesian President and Singaporean PM , pushed PM to ensure that negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are concluded this year. Modi is said to have “reiterated India‘s commitment to RCEP” in his meetings. 

RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement involving Asean nations and India, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, China and Japan. The government remains wary of Asean‘s demand that India drastically cut down import tariffs on goods as it believes it will allow Beijing to further flood the Indian market with Chinese goods.

India is also seeking an agreement for RCEP countries to liberalise the services sector. “One repeated refrain (in the meetings) was for RCEP and that they would like to move ahead with it,‘‘ secretary (east) Preeti Saran said, adding that Modi expressed commitment to RCEP and called for a balanced agreement which would be beneficial to all parties. The Singaporean PM said RCEP would create an integrated Asian market comprising nearly half the world‘s population and a third of the world‘s GDP. “It‘s a historic opportunity to create the world‘s largest trading bloc,‘‘ Lee added.

The India-Asean Commemorative Summit to mark 25 years of India‘s partnership with Asean was played up by Indian officials as an endorsement by Asean leaders of some of the NDA government‘s flagship but controversial policy decisions including demonetisation, Aadhaar implementation and also India‘s overall growth story under Modi.

Saran sought to highlight how most of the visiting leaders expressed appreciation for Modi‘s speech in Davos and also his focus on economic reforms. She said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte discussed with Modi the possibility of having an Aadhaarlike unique identity number for citizens of his country. A delegation from the Philippines was said to have visited India recently to study the Aadhaar mechanism and the way it was being implemented. According to Indian officials, the leaders told Modi that his Davos speech found “special resonance‘‘ with their countries as they sought to promote trade and investment in the region.

Modi is said to have replied back by saying that his Davos speech was actually based on what he had picked up from his interactions with Asean leaders. Modi had bilateral meetings with leaders of , Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei over two days. Some of these leaders are said to have expressed interest in knowing more about India‘s emphasis on creating a cashless economy.

Source: Luxora Reader

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