But resistance from an Indian government protectionist by instinct - in particular concerned about a flood of cheap mass-produced Chinese goods hurting small businesses in its economy, and the impact of free agricultural trade on the country's tens of millions of small-scale farmers - saw its prime minister Narendra Modi pull out.
WITH the negotiations for the mega regional free trade agreement (FTA) known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) nearly at the finish line, there were still question marks if the world's most powerful trade bloc could ever see the light of day largely because of the resistance by one of its key members. "In the given circumstances, we believe that not joining the agreement is the right decision for India", said Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs.
India was anxious that its market could be flooded with Chinese goodsas well as agricultural and dairy products from countries like Australia and New Zealand. On the other hand, China has been seeking to tie up the deal expeditiously as the country faces slowing growth from a trade war with the U.S. It is also looking to further integrate with regional economies just as the Trump administration urges Asian nations to shun Chinese infrastructure loans and 5G technology.
If India leaves RCEP, "We will also withdraw", the Japanese official said.
Japan continues to hope that India will reconsider its decision to leave Asia's largest free trade pact and sign onto the dotted line by 2020, Japanese economy, trade and industry minister said in Bangkok on Tuesday. Seven years after talks began, the signing of a final deal was pushed back to the next year.
The other 15 nations in a statement said they have concluded text-based negotiations for all the 20 chapters and all their market access issues.
Even without India in the mix, RCEP will be the world's largest trade pact.
Signatories RCEP include the 10 ASEAN members, plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and, maybe, India.
The statement indicates that leaders are keeping the door open for India to eventually join.
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THAILAND-After 7 years, participating countries in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) failed to sign a mega free trade deal during a summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand.
When asked whether India is a deal breaker at the last minute, he said that the country was raising these issues since 2014 and consistent on its stand to protect its national interest. "India has worked for the cherished objective of striking balance, in the spirit of give and take".
India's most thorny market access issue has been with its second-biggest trading partner China, with whom India had a $53 billion trade deficit in 2018/19.
Sources also indicated that the main reason why the talks fell apart was because India could not make significant progress in trade in services under the proposed pact.
Indian trade negotiators and business groups backing the deal said Indian industry would have joined global supply chains for high-end goods such as electronics and engineering.
Leaders of the 16 countries involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) said overnight that they had resolved differences but India was not in agreement.
A 16th country, India, still has "significant outstanding issues", which the RCEP participating countries committed to resolve.
India could still join RCEP at a later date.
Notably absent from the Bangkok talks were any top USA officials - Washington sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien in lieu of President Donald Trump.