Asia trade bloc seeks ways to include India

WELLINGTON • New Zealand and its partners in a proposed Asia trade bloc continue to seek ways to bring India into the group, arguing that it will have a key role as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupts global trade.

The bloc comprising 15 nations — Asean countries, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and China — has been negotiating for several years to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, but in November India opted out of the talks. Last month, the group wrote a letter seeking India’s return and expressed a willingness to discuss some of its demands.

“What we are trying to do along with other RCEP colleagues is to try to find a way for there to be an on-ramp that allows India an accelerated way back into the agreement,” Vangelis Vitalis, deputy secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told a parliamentary select committee yesterday in Wellington.

“It would be even more important for India to be part of the agreement in the post-Covid space as we see some of the challenges starting to emerge around the region.”

The bloc, which makes up 30% of global trade and 58% of New Zealand exports, hopes to sign the RCEP agreement by the end of the year, he said.

“The message from India has not been very encouraging, but from a New Zealand perspective, we would like to find a way for India to be a participant,” he said. — Bloomberg