New Delhi: Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said on Tuesday hinted that India could re-consider its decision to keep off the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal in the future if its demands are 'suitably accommodated.''
Briefing the press here about India's participation in the three-day trade talks in Bangkok that concluded on Monday, Goyal said, "At the moment, our decision to not join (the RCEP) is final. However, in international negotiations, you never close the door. If other countries suitably accommodate our demands, then we will consider it in consultation with the stakeholders."
He said India was firm on its stand in the RCEP negotiations not to join the China-led mega trade deal in the national interest.
The minister also said India did not receive any credible assurance on market access and non-tariff barriers.
Goyal said Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a tough stand to protect the interest of the dairy sector, farmers and domestic industry.
The minister dismissed apprehensions that keeping off the RCEP would jeopardise the country's growth prospects. He said the previous Manmohan Singh government had initiated the discussions for making India a part of the RCEP grouping, ignoring the fact that the country had huge trade deficit with the member nations.
The trade deficit with the RCEP grouping soared from $7 billion in 2004 to $78 billion in 2014.
He also said the Modi government was reviewing various free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by the UPA government with South Korea and the Asean with a view to safeguard the interest of nation and pave the way for making India a $5-trillion economy.
The government's decision to skip the mega trade deal has been lauded by farmers and businesses.
In a tweet late Monday, the country's largest dairy producer, Amul, applauded Modi's "exemplary leadership and support" to dairy farmers, who would have been exposed to more competition under the RCEP.
"Your vision of supporting their livelihood will help (in) doubling their incomes and make India stronger," it said.
Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General of the Confederation of All India Traders (Cait), said a deal would have allowed Chinese manufacturers to overwhelm "the Indian market with Made In China products at very low prices... Thereby creating a disequilibrium".
B. M. Singh, Convenor of the All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, said the rejection of the deal was "a huge victory for farmers", according to an AFP report.
"We should not go for an open agreement like the RCEP simply because we can't compete with other big countries," Singh said.
"It's like throwing someone who is 25 KG into a boxing ring and asking him to compete with an opponent weighing 100 KG."
Some small business owners welcomed the move but said it would not be enough to sustain their industries or make them competitive.
Experts were divided on Modi's decision, with some warning that New Delhi may lose out as it tries to become a more globally competitive economy.
"In an era in which manufacturing requires the ability to become more -- not less -- integrated into global supply chains, this decision appears for the moment to make it harder to boost manufacturing in India," Council on Foreign Relations' senior fellow Alyssa Ayres wrote.
Others cautioned that India was not ready to cope with the influx of cheaper products amid the downturn.
"India's economy is currently reeling under some stress and it wouldn't have been the right time to take a decision which possibly could have had a large impact on various sectors of the economy," Drip Capital Co-Founder Pushkar Mukewar said.