RCEP: Commerce ministry consulting stakeholders to firm up views

The commerce ministry is meeting representatives of various industrial sectors such as steel, engineering goods, automobiles, leather goods and textiles, following concerns raised by trade bodies over increased competition in the domestic market, once the RCEP pact is finalised. The agricultural sector and the dairy industry, too, have expressed apprehensions about the proposed agreement. 

Domestic industry fears uneven competition mainly from exporters in China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
As part of stakeholder consultations, commerce ministry officials will meet members of the dairy product manufacturers on Wednesday to seek their views on whether or not to allow dairy as part of negotiations under RCEP.
Officials of the Department of Commerce will be meeting multinational dairy product players, besides some home grown companies, as well as dairy federations to explore how RCEP can be effectively used to push up export of dairy products in high-value-added segments.
The ministry has invited about 60 top dairy consuming-players, including Ferrero, Hersheys, Nestle, Kwality, Unilever, Lotte, Pepsico, besides domestic private players such as Reliance, Havmor, Dinshaw's and some dairy federations.
While there is a general view that opening the dairy sector may be beneficial to local producers, the mega trade deal being negotiated by India with 15 countries, including the ASEAN and China, will mainly be decided on merits and not diplomacy, external affairs, minister S Jaishankar said on Monday.
“RCEP is a trade agreement. A trade agreement must be defended and decided upon by trade merits. There are diplomatic aspects, consequences, handling etc involved. But the primary justification of a trade agreement can’t be diplomacy. It has to be trade,” Jaishankar said at a press conference on Tuesday when asked if saying no to the RCEP agreement will be acceptable from a diplomatic point of view.
The agenda of the RCEP meet seems to be to lay the ground for allowing dairy imports, focusing mainly on the consumption side of the dairy industry, than the production side. The agenda is silent on safeguarding interests of milk producers and dairy farmers.
Earlier, during talks with dairy sector players in Mumbai, on 22 July, commerce minister Piyush Goyal had given some assurance to the industry that the government will not venture into anything that will harm interests of the dairy farmers.
Industry fears that the latest meeting scheduled in New Delhi could further build a case for allowing cheap and duty-free imports of dairy products from surplus producers such as New Zealand and Australia.
The entire dairy industry in the country, including the apex dairy body National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), had raised concerns during the meeting with Goyal stating that allowing cheaper imports from surplus countries will destroy the livelihood of the millions in the dairy farming.