China-backed Asia trade pact to be examined by India panel

The sun sets over gantry cranes at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, operated by Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. (Bloomberg pic)

NEW DELHI: A panel of Indian ministers will meet to consider objections by several departments against an Asian trade pact spearheaded by Beijing citing fears of a flood of Chinese imports, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The group headed by Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu will meet on Aug 10 to discuss concerns flagged by the ministries of steel, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, electronics, heavy industry, textiles and chemicals against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter was not public.

A commerce ministry spokesperson didn’t answer a call on her mobile.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration faces pressure from member nations — including Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea — to conclude talks by end of 2019, the people said. India has dragged its feet as the pact doesn’t provide for free movement of skilled workers, a key concern for New Delhi given its large pool of tech workers, even as it opens its market to a clutch of nations known for their manufacturing prowess.

With President Donald Trump withdrawing the US from a separate 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership last year and starting a full-blown global trade war, RCEP grouping accounting for 3.5 billion people and US$22.5 trillion in gross domestic product, is being seen as the champion of free trade. After meeting at the end of August, ministers of the 16 member- nations would meet in November.