NEW DELHI: The RCEP did not "adequately" address India's concerns including over issues of non-tariff barriers to trade and opaqueness in subsidy regime in some countries, which forced it to back out from the trade deal, the government informed Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
Besides, the government is also going to review the free trade agreement between India and ASEAN countries by the previous governments saying that it has created trade imbalances, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal said in a statement.
According to the minister, imports from these countries have increased much more than exports from India.
However, Goyal, who was replying to members in the Upper House, also assured them that India's Look East policy would continue.
"The government's priority is also to correct the asymmetry in the existing agreements and maximise its export potential to benefit domestic industry and farmers to promote Prime Minister's vision of Make in India and doubling farmers' income," said Goyal.
The minister also said that India would continue to engage with other countries as "equal partner and on the principle of reciprocity".
"We are working with our existing FTA partners like South Korea and Japan to address our concerns," said Goyal in his statement on trade agreements with RCEP countries.
He further added: "We have also secured an agreement to initiate a review of ASEAN-India Trade and Goods agreement to make the AIFTA more user-friendly, simple and trade facilitative."
Over RCEP, the minister said that India continued to focus on its core demands - level playing field, fair trade practises, transparency and market access - during the trade negotiations.
"Since, RCEP in its current form did not adequately address our concerns, joining it would be unfair to our interests," he said.
During RCEP negotiations, the government had highlighted India's position as a relatively low per capita GDP as compared to other RCEP countries and its concerns about the livelihood of farmers and employment generation provided by the industrial sector, particularly by the MSMEs.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega free-trade agreement (FTA) which was negotiated by 16 countries, including India and China.
On November 4 in Bangkok, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the call of not joining the RCEP agreement as India's concerns were not addressed in the pact.
Taking a dig on the previous governments, the minister said that the previous FTAs done by them had done damage to trade, hence there was no question of any such further trade agreements.
Asked about the consequences of not joining RCEP, the minister said, "The economy of the country would improve and there would be no unwanted imports."
Without naming any country, Goyal said that some of them do not have transparent trade system and many times inferior quality goods are imported whose landing price here is even lower than the raw material prices.
"We do not had mechanism to check it. We wanted to bring all such issues in it," he said, adding it would help the domestic industry.
However, the minister declined the request of some of the members to share the points of discussions at RCEP saying that all such negotiations are confidential in nature.
The minister also said that all roads are not closed for RCEP and India would continue to engage with these countries as equal partner and on the principle of reciprocity.
"We should never shut the way. We have to navigate and this has to be done cleverly," said Goyal, adding "I assure that we would measure this way cleverly by keeping the nation's interest ahead and decide accordingly."
He said, "There is difference of opinion but we are still together. There are no grudges (RCEP me matbhed hue hain koi man nahi tuta hai. Koi manbhed nahi hai."
The minister also assured the House about the "Look East" policy of India.
"Our Look East policy remains and would continue to be so," said Goyal.
However, over the India-ASEAN FTA, he said trade deficit of India with ASEAN countries has increased rapidly.
"Our export growth was very low in comparison to import growth," he said adding, "The review of FTA with ASEAN should have been done much earlier. No, our government has started the process of review and has started discussions on that."
While responding to issues raised by Leader of opposition Anand Sharma, the minister said that India is importing coal as essential item due to wrong policies of the previous government.
Congress member Jairam Ramesh welcomed the government's move to step out of RCEP.
However, he also said that the government has not done any great favour by putting the pause button on RCEP as it was inevitable due to opposition from several RSS bodies inclding Swadeshi Jagaran Manch.