India is a “very open economy” and wants to have trade relations and pacts with all countries, Union Minister Suresh Prabhu today told the business community here, ahead of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP) meeting. Prabhu also made a fervent pitch for a more dynamic, global trading system, as he said India is working with the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the RCEP — a mega free trade agreement.

“India is a very open economy. We want to have trade relationships and trade pacts as continuing as possible, particularly with ASEAN, with which we already have a pact,” the Commerce and Industry Minister said in a lecture titled ‘India’s Economic Reforms and Global Integration’. The Indian economy, he said, is one of the “most open economies” with liberal foreign direct investment (FDI) in all sectors, including defence.

“We are also working along with the ASEAN and other neighbours on RCEP, for which I am here,” Prabhu said, adding, “our idea is to get into bilateral and multilateral pacts, as many as possible, to ensure that many countries benefit and we also benefit.” He said that though these (bilateral and multi-lateral trade agreements) are “very difficult negotiations”, India is “always ready to be involved and is very positive”.

“We want to find a solution, but as you can always understand that domestic interest is always reflected in the talks, as it is with all countries, including Singapore, ASEAN and RCEP (member countries) who would like to protect (their interests) and India would also like to (do the same),” Prabhu said. “But we are finding a way, whereby we can work together,” the minister said.

“Also on a multi-lateral (level), we are very keen (that) we must have a global trading system which would be on a more dynamic way,” he said, citing the success of the World Trade Organisation in managing global trade affairs. “Therefore, we are keen and active participants with a quest to find out a workable solution to bring in as much global integration as possible so that countries all over benefit from it and benefit in a way that they don’t have to compromise their domestic concerns, but at the same time they benefit as well,” he said.

RCEP ministers are in Singapore for a ‘closed-door’ meeting. RCEP envisages regional economic integration, leading to the creation of the largest regional trading bloc in the world. It is currently being negotiated between ASEAN member states — Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Singapore is hosting the ASEAN Economic Ministers’ (AEM) Retreat, the AEM-European Union Trade Commissioner Consultations and the Inter-sessional Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Ministerial Meeting from 1 to 3 March 2018. RCEP participating countries will discuss ways to progress their negotiations at the inter-sessional RCEP Ministerial Meeting.

While here, Prabhu will also be meeting Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

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