NEW DELHI: India, while negotiating the final contours of the RCEP pact will try and protect its automobile industry by back-loading tariff reductions in electronics, automobiles and auto parts besides giving the maximum protection to its farming and textile sectors."We have a 25-year time frame to reduce tariff. Our aim will be to back-load opening up markets in sensitive sectors such as automobiles and auto parts, textiles and readymade garments, leather goods etc., as well as stall moves to open up our farming sectors to imports," said top commerce ministry officials.
Auto industry has been facing a huge fall in sales for most of the carmakers. Maruti Suzuki reported a 24 per cent contraction in sales, Mahindra over 33 per cent and Tata Motors over 54 per cent in September 2019. Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers president Rajan Wadhera had earlier warned that free trade pacts like RCEP was likely to result in job losses and "hurt Make in India".
Officials said their analysis showed that electronics and automobiles, especially electric vehicles were at risk of being brought in cheaply from China defeating India’s efforts to set up a production hub locally. "That is why we will be back-loading (reducing import tariff over a longer period of time) for these items," they said, pointing out that the other big fear was electronics products. India’s electronics imports touched a record USD 55.6 billion in 2018-19, against USD 51.5 billion a year before, and remained the largest driver of its trade deficit after oil, with China accounting for the lion’s share of this import.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact is being negotiated among 10 ASEAN members and their six trading partners including China, Japan, India and Australia and once in place, it would be the world’s largest trading bloc, accounting for 40 per cent of the globe’s GDP.
Similar apprehensions have also been raised in meetings with the commerce ministry by textile manufacturers and leather goods makers. Some textile associations forecast that China may dump goods up to the value of $50 billion if the market is opened up. Officials said they would similarly take longer periods off time in opening up textile sectors to RCEP. “Whatever concessions we have given to ASEAN, Japan or Korea will stay, but RCEP will not necessarily extend those concessions to China, Australia,” they said.