NEW DELHI: Chief negotiators of India, China and 14 other countries will meet by the end of this month in Singapore for the next round of discussions on the proposed mega free trade deal RCEP.
"The meeting will start by the end of this month. This will be the 22nd round of negotiations," an official said.
The issues which would figure in deliberations include finalising the number of goods on which duties would be significantly reduced or eliminated and matters pertaining to the services sector.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega trade agreement among 16 countries aimed at liberalising norms for goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights.
The talks have dragged on as RCEP members want an agreement over removal of customs duties on maximum number of products.
Besides, countries like India want greater liberalisation in the services sector trade, which is a key component in the domestic economy.
On the other hand, Indian industry and exporters are apprehensive about the presence of China in the grouping, with which India has a huge trade deficit.
They have stated that lowering or eliminating duties for China may flood Indian markets with Chinese goods.
Some trade experts have warned over the impact of the trade agreement on India's trade.
"Indian government should be very cautious about this pact because the kind of market access and tariff cuts that RCEP countries are demanding including in agriculture sector, it would be difficult for India to sustain in long run," Biswajit Dhar, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said.
The 16-member bloc RCEP comprises 10 ASEAN nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners --- India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
India's trade deficit with China stood at USD 51 billion in 2016-17. India wants certain deviations for such countries. Under deviations, India may propose a longer duration for either reduction or elimination of import duties for such countries.
Talks for the pact started in Phnom Penh in November 2012. India already has implemented a free trade agreement with ASEAN, Japan and South Korea.
On the other hand, the country is negotiating similar pacts with Australia and New Zealand. According to experts, if concluded, the RCEP would become the largest free trade area. It would open market for over 3 billion people.
The 16 countries account for over a quarter of the world's economy, estimated to be more than USD 75 trillion.