TOKYO: Ministers from Japan and other countries discussing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership reconfirmed in a joint statement Tuesday that India is "an important participant" in negotiations over the envisaged free trade agreement.
The statement was released after a videoconference among the ministers the same day. At the talks, the ministers from 15 countries -- Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- agreed to continue their efforts to make India return to the RCEP negotiating table. India, which has signaled its withdrawal from the proposed deal, did not join the ministerial talks.
"India has been an important participant in the RCEP negotiations since the launch in 2012," the ministers said in the statement, adding: "We believe that India's participation in the RCEP would contribute to the advancement and prosperity of the region. We therefore wish to emphasize that the RCEP remains open for India."
The 15 countries, excluding India, reached a broad agreement over the main areas covered by the RCEP at a summit last November. India threatened to pull out of the negotiation framework due to concern over massive inflows of goods from China after tariff cuts under the trade deal.
The ministers at the videoconference reaffirmed the goal of concluding the trade agreement within this year among the 16 countries including India. The ministerial statement also said that the importance of the RCEP is growing in light of the global trend of protectionism amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It was the first RCEP ministerial session in seven months. The previous talks were held shortly before the November summit.
Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama said in the videoconference that it is important to reach out to India, according to Japanese government sources.
A participant said that the return of India is indispensable for the development of the Asia-Pacific region, the sources said.