During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to
This region also has historical civilisational and cultural linkage with India as can be seen from Sanskrit origin names in Thailand and Indonesia, and also many of their customs and traditions. The increasing closeness to the East has been evident throughout the past 30 years. India signed a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) with Singapore in June 2005, which is much beyond a conventional free trade agreement (FTA). It also signed free trade agreement with the ASEAN group in 2010, with Thailand in 2004, with then prime minister
The only notable exception in this Act East policy is a somewhat colder approach to our northern neighbour who also casts a long shadow over East and Southeast Asia. That country is China. Even though India’s trade with China has grown very rapidly, albeit in a very asymmetric way, and our PM and their president have visited each other several times, India is certainly not going to sign any free trade agreement with China. Indeed Indian producers, big and small, are constantly struggling to deal with the onslaught of cheap Chinese imports, which are often accused of dumping, that is selling below the cost of production. At times, even after paying the penalty of anti-dumping duties, Chinese goods are still cheaper than their Indian counterparts.
It is for this reason, the apprehension that signing the RCEP treaty would effectively make it even easier for Chinese goods to flood India, that we chose not to sign that treaty. Of course, this seems to ignore the fact that we already have free trade agreements with 12 of the 14 nations. By choosing to stay out we risk missing out on regional production value chains, and possible diversion of investments into that mega free trade bloc away from India.
However, just as we put a pause to signing RCEP, we immediately announced our desire to fast tract free trade agreements with the US and
Our free trade talks with EU are stymied because of our automobile sector, which does not want duty free access to European cars, new or second hand. The Europeans also want duty free access for cheese and wine, which is facing resistance here. So both US and EU treaties will take a long time to materialise, assuming we are not going to give up huge advantages. So it seems that instead of Look and Act East we are embracing the West instead. Why not do both?
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