From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : RCEP countries
Mains level : Paper 3- India's decision to not join RCEP
The article analyses government’s decision to stay out of RCEP and factors responsible for it.
What India chose not to join RCEP
- By joining RCEP, India would have further risked a flood of cheap Chinese imports in sectors like electronics.
- India had tried and failed to win substantial concessions in areas like work visas for its information technology-enabled services.
- Two of India’s proposals—an RCEP business travel card and an RCEP service supplier card—failed to find favour with a majority of the bloc’s members.
Arguments in favour of India joining the RCEP
- First argument made is RCEP would have provided an excellent opportunity for Indian firms to get integrated with regional value chains.
- However, merely joining a trade bloc does not automatically result in integration with global value chains.
- The complex nature of global production networks requires a lot of economic and trade policy reforms on the domestic front.
- Second important argument made is that India would lose an opportunity to access RCEP’s common market.
- But this argument too doesn’t hold much water if Indian producers are not competitive.
- Competitiveness is driven by factors both within and beyond the control of domestic industry.
- So it would be an over-simplification to assume that Indian industry does not have the capability or appetite to be competitive.
- Often, global competitiveness inside factory gates gets diluted by costs borne outside those gates.
What past data suggests
- India’s merchandise exports grew at an annual rate of more than 18% between 2000-01 and 2010-11, which was largely a pre-FTA period.
- In this period, India activated only two FTAs—with Sri Lanka and Singapore.
- India joined the FTAs in a big way from 2010 onwards.
- It operationalized big trade agreements with the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, Korea, and separately with Malaysia.
- However, despite these deals, India could realize annual merchandise export growth of only 2.5% between 2010-11 and 2019-20.
- This disappointing performance shows that FTAs are not conducive for exports.
While RCEP may theoretically offer India new opportunities for exports and integration with pan-Asian production networks, we have a lot of work to do internally before we are in a position to make the most of free-trade deals.