India can strengthen economic ties with the Asean region by joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Despite India’s concerns about its trade deficits with Asean countries and China, it would be missing out on a key economic opportunity to establish a presence in the fast-growing Asean region if it did not join the RCEP.
If negotiations succeed, RCEP will be the largest multilateral trade pact in history – encompassing China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the ten Asean nations.
The Asean region, and the Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand subregion, in particular, is the geopolitical centre of Asia. The region connects east Asia with south Asia, a link between the two economic powers of China and India.
India’s trade strategy complements that of the Asean region, both championing multilateralism over unilateralism in trade negotiation processes. Further RCEP represents the notion of Asean Centrality, and with India’s Act East policy, it is important for India to not lose out on this opportunity to further integrate with the Asean region to reap the economic benefits of multilateral trade.
The conversation surrounding India-Asean relations through the RCEP talks may reinvigorate initiatives to increase regional cooperation in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). This is a multinational organisation comprising Thailand, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.