Australia still hopes to see India join RCEP, says ex-Australian secretary Peter Varghese

By Our Reporter
Peter Varghese

The door has been very deliberately left wide open for India and I genuinely hope that at some point, sooner rather than later, India will decide to walk through the door, said former Australian secretary for foreign affairs and trade Peter Varghese, who is the author of a paper on Australia’s economic strategy for India, referring to the 15-nation ASEAN led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership—seen as the world’s biggest trade bloc, and due to be signed in February 2020—that the Indian government decided to quit. “Australia still hopes to see India join,” he said.

Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal had recently stated that the government could reconsider its decision to leave the RCEP grouping if the terms for India were amended. Mr Goyal also said the focus was on other Free Trade Agreements with the European Union, U.S., existing negotiations with Australia, and a review of FTAs with ASEAN, Japan and Korea.

Mr Varghese, who was at a recent Confederation of Indian Industries event in New Delhi, where he unveiled the paper on economic strategy, said he hoped India’s decision was not final and added that India’s entry into RCEP was dependent on the ‘India-China’ element, as India’s main concerns over flooding of imports in the market, rules of origin, etc are essentially problems with China. When asked about any movement in the India-Australia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), that has made little progress in the last five years, Mr. Varghese said that according to the strategy paper, the “India-Australia FTA or CECA should be on hold until we know where India comes out finally on RCEP”.

Speaking at the same event, MEA Additional Secretary for Economic Diplomacy P Harish denied that India’s decision to leave RCEP would make other negotiations like the one with Australia more difficult.

“I think it must be remembered that the India-Australia trade engagement is not contingent on any bilateral or multilateral FTA, and we must keep working on ways to grow opportunities between both countries,” said Mr Varghese. However, he added he was disappointed by the lack of response to his report’s suggestions from big business in Australia. “I think there is less of an understanding in corporate Australia about what is happening in India.”


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