Can India be part of Asia’s growth story without the RCEP – or China’s trust?

Can India be part of Asia’s growth story without the RCEP – or China’s trust?

The decision of 15 Asian countries earlier this month to seal the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), heralding a major step forward for economic integration, has sparked a debate among diplomats and academics in India about whether the country is being left out of Asia’s growth story because of its decision not to join the group.

“India has been repeatedly missing the Asian bus, despite our desire to get on board,” Sanjaya Baru, an adviser to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, told The Hindu newspaper. He compared the current situation to the 1990s, when New Delhi decided not to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) – another major trade group, comprising 21 member countries.

The decision not to join Apec slowed the pace of economic reforms in India and also made several of the group’s members wary of India, which they viewed as overly protective of domestic industries. Although the moratorium set by Apec on taking new members was lifted in 2010, and India has indicated a willingness to join, there has been no unanimity in the trade bloc to include India.