India’s position on trade agreements is under scrutiny after a group of 12 countries, led by the US, reached a tentative agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) earlier this week, a Singapore banking group said today.
While the TPP ratification by the signatories and other processes are expected to delay its implementation by a few more years, nonetheless India’s patchy track record on free-trade agreements is feared to hurt latter’s ambitious goals to double exports to USD 900 billion over the next five years, DBS group said in its daily economic report.
Of the 12 TPP signatories, India has existing free trade/cooperation agreements with three.
Negotiations are on-going with the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) member countries on a separate Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes China but not the US, it pointed out.
India had expressed plans earlier in the year to join the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation), but there has been little material progress since then, DBS said.
Focus has also been on pushing forth with other key pacts, especially with the European Union.
However, India’s progress has been slow on a free trade agreement with the European nations.
The Indian government has taken active interest in forging deeper international ties since assuming office last year, especially to attract foreign investments for infrastructure and manufacturing facilities.
But progress on bilateral/multilateral trade pacts particularly has been tricky, given the tough choice between maintaining controls on certain strategic aspects, including agriculture, pharma, intellectual property rights, services.
Authorities have leaned towards the former in recent negotiations, suggesting that the push to conclude more trade pacts will evolve at a cautious pace.
Close to a quarter of India’s merchandise exports headed to the US and ASEAN countries last year, with another four per cent to key Latin American markets.
Concern is whether improved market access, tariff reductions and diversion of service trade between the TPP members, as and when it becomes effective, might erode India’s market share, the bank said.
It cited a think-tank estimates and press reports that India’s exports, especially textiles and leather products might face threats, as countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia get cheaper access to the US and other markets covered by the deal.
However, real impact is likely to be “smaller in our view as the TPP is likely to take years to implement,” it said.
Overall, given the weak global demand backdrop, collapse in commodity earnings, domestic bottlenecks and cautious stance on trading pacts, meeting the government’s ambitious target to raise India’s share in global trade to 3.5 per cent by 2020 from two per cent presently, will be an uphill task, DBS said.