FIFTEEN Asian countries have agreed to terms for what could be the world’s biggest trade pact but India delayed its decision on joining because of significant differences over tariffs and other issues.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) brings in all the ten member countries of Association of South-east Asian Nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang (right) with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) next to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern at the photo session during the 3rd RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) Summit. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Participating countries met in Bangkok alongside a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.

“We noted 15 RCEP Participating Countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters and essentially all their market access issues,” the statement from the leaders said has revealed.

“India has significant outstanding issues, which remain unresolved . . . India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues,” it said.

According to a Reuters report, The United States-China trade war has given new impetus to years of discussions on the trade bloc. But India decided not to agree to it as it stands due to differences over tariffs, its trade deficit with other countries and non-tariff related barriers, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quoted as saying.

“Present form of the RCEP Agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and agreed guiding principles of RCEP,” Mr Modi was quoted saying by Indian public broadcaster Prasar Bharati News Services in a tweet. “It does not address satisfactorily India’s outstanding issues and concerns.”

China, a champion of the RCEP, said earlier that 15 members had agreed to move ahead without India, while leaving the door open for it to join a deal that has been given new impetus by the United States-China trade war.

Despite a message of support from US President Donald Trump to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), regional countries noted that Washington had downgraded its delegation for the annual Asian gathering.