Dispelling popular perception that India was the one dragging talks on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – a free trade area envisaged among sixteen countries of the Asia and Oceania region – the leading Indian trade negotiators who were in Auckland recently to participate in 24th round of RCEP negotiations have asserted that India is prepared more than ever to open-up and sign the free trade agreement.

“We don’t have any apprehensions [on signing free trade agreement]. What we are looking for a very comprehensive, high ambition across all pillars, which means goods, services, and investment agreement,” said Sudhanshu Pandey, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce and Industries and lead RCEP negotiator.

“We are looking for a balanced agreement which is good for everyone including that of India,

“We believe that we are actually leaders in many areas and we want to be better integrated so that our young entrepreneurs get better business opportunities,” Mr Pandey told The Indian Weekender.

“India’s expectations are very clear. We are now ranked number eighth globally with 3.2 per cent share in the global services market. We want to ensure that the interests of Indian Information & Technology (IT) sector which delivers world-class services all around the world to be protected and given fair access to global markets.

“Indian IT sector has escalated the competency levels in manufacturing sectors of other countries, including the United States and European Union,” Mr Pandey said.

The winds of change blowing at home

However, India’s interest in opening up the economy and integrating with regional and global supply chains is not only driven by traditional interests of the IT sector but also propelled by changes unleashed in India in the recent past, notably under the flagship programme of Make in India, Digital India, Start-Up India, which is fast changing the landscape of Indian business environment.

“There has been considerable ease of doing business since the launch of these new initiatives [Make in India, Digital India, Start-up India] by the current government.

This year in April the government of India launched another ambitious programme of twelve champion services sector where services have come into focus.

The twelve champion sectors include IT & ITeS, Tourism and Hospitality, Medical Value Travel, Transport and Logistics, Accounting and Finance, Audio Visual, Legal, Communication, Construction and Related Engineering, Environmental, Financial and Education.

The government of India is specifically looking at these sectors and developing a plan with the line ministries whereby it is ascertaining if the right regulatory framework and services standards for the growth of that sector are in place.

“These programmes encourage innovation and young entrepreneurship, and we are keen to ensure that they get access to global markets,” Mr Pandey said.

Reflecting similar sentiments another Indian trade negotiator, Rajiv Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Government of India said, “There is a lot of innovation happening in India.

“This is not only in the area of cutting-edge technologies under Make in India but also in Start-up India.

“So we are talking of getting more and more entrepreneurs to think out of the box and giving them all incentives to move ahead and give wings to their ideas,” Mr Aggarwal said.

“India is ready to compete in the global market with better integration, and this is not only for RCEP but also for the world beyond RCEP,” Mr Aggarwal further asserted.

Happy with the progress of talks at Auckland RCEP Round

Meanwhile, Indian negotiators expressed satisfaction on the way talks have progressed at the 24th Auckland RCEP Round.

Senior Indian trade negotiator Damu Ravi, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, said “I think we are making progress, although I must say its incremental progress.

“I see signs and signals coming from many other countries showing flexibility and accommodation.”

However, it is not clear whether this perceived sense of accommodation as experienced by the Indian negotiators was in response to their own concessions if any toward the conclusion of talks on regional free trade.

New Zealand’s lead trade negotiator Mark Trainor refused to comment on that saying, “I would rather not talk about the content and the state of negotiations with individual countries.”

Although many negotiators from other countries, including New Zealand’s Mr Trainor had concurred that there was an overall intensification of talks, primarily driven by fast-changing global trade environment